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Page last updated at 22:23 GMT, Wednesday, 13 April 2011 23:23 UK

Arsenal defeat Chelsea in Women's Super League opener


Media spotlight added to nerves - Flaherty

By Tony Leighton

The new Women's Super League kicked off with a win for Arsenal in a close encounter with Chelsea.

The Gunners beat the Blues 1-0 in the opening fixture of the new league at Tooting & Mitcham's The Hub, where both teams struggled with an uneven pitch.

Gilly Flaherty provided the only goal of the game with a 35th-minute tap-in.

In Wednesday's other match, midfielder Vicky Exley scored the only goal of the game as Doncaster Belles beat Lincoln 1-0 at Sincil Bank.

Arsenal's clash with Chelsea drew 2,510 spectators - a figure practically unheard of in women's club football - including England coach Hope Powell.

With a much harder-fought contest than Arsenal are normally given, a new era of more competitive football at this level was perhaps heralded by this intriguing curtain-raiser.

Arsenal's Rachel Yankey challenges Chelsea's Leanne Champ
Arsenal's Rachel Yankey challenges Chelsea's Leanne Champ

Sadly the bumpy, uneven south London pitch was not conducive to the kind of football both of these teams try to play and left-back Flaherty's 35th-minute goal was unsurprisingly the only goal of a game played largely in midfield.

The occasion was nevertheless deemed a success by everyone involved in the development of the eight-team, semi-professional league.

England coach Powell, a prime mover in the formulation of the league and the switch to a summer format, said: "I was really pleased with the evening - the crowd was brilliant, the atmosphere was tremendous and we had a very competitive game."

Arsenal and England captain Faye White added: "It was a great occasion. It's been a long time coming and there was a great vibe around the whole event.

"It was a good contest but we didn't play as well as we can. The pitch didn't help our football but that goes for Chelsea too because they also try to play decent football."

We have to use tonight as the springboard for the women's game to take off

Arsenal manager Laura Harvey

Chelsea may well have got at least a point out of the game, almost going ahead after only eight minutes when Helen Lander sent a good 25-yard effort narrowly wide.

But neither side seriously threatened to take the lead before Flaherty broke the deadlock from a needlessly conceded, then poorly defended, corner.

Midfielder Kim Little drilled the corner kick into the six-yard box, the ball evading several defenders to leave the unmarked left-back with a simple tap-in.

There was little goalmouth action in the rest of the game, though Chelsea should have levelled the score 19 minutes from time.

As the ball ran across the the goalmouth from midfielder Dani Buet's cross, both left-back Claire Rafferty and Lander failed to get a decisive touch.

Despite the game ending in defeat for Chelsea, manager Matt Beard, who had promised the Gunners a tough game, was pleased with his team's efforts.

"A draw or a win to us would have been a fair result," said Beard. "I thought we played quite well but unfortunately we paid the price for missing chances.

Magan Harris and Leandra Little of Lincoln Ladies battle with Lyndsey Cunningham of Doncaster Rovers Belles
Lincoln dominated possession but could not find the goal to merit their efforts

"It was a good night for women's football though and it was a privilege to be involved. Hopefully the game can kick on from here and really raise its profile."

Arsenal boss Laura Harvey echoed Beard's sentiments. "We have to use tonight as the springboard for the women's game to take off," said Harvey.

"On the night I was disappointed with our performance but credit to Chelsea because they gave us a hard game and the new league needs to be truly competitive.

"We've also got to keep the crowds coming - tonight's attendance was fantastic and every club in the league has to aim to bring as many people into games as possible," Harvey added.

Doncaster Belles joined the Gunners in picking up three-points, prevailing against Lincoln in their league opener.

There's so much quality around the new league and there are so many good young players coming through - I think the game could really take off now

Doncaster Belles' Vicky Exley

Former England international Vicky Exley, a Donny Belle since 1995, hit the only goal of the game just before half-time in a well contested match in front of a crowd of 746 at Lincoln City's Sincil Bank.

"It was a fantastic feeling to get the goal," said Exley, "but even better to get the win. We played really well and I think we deserved it over the 90 minutes.

"It was a great night all round - there was a real buzz about it, the atmosphere was brilliant and it was a terrific game", added the 35-year-old.

The game could have gone either way but Exley's 45th minute goal, a 12 yard strike from Precious Hamilton's low cross, proved decisive.

Lincoln pressed hard at times for an equaliser, however, and England winger Sue Smith was unlucky with a 25 yard drive that struck a post while former Doncaster striker Carla Cantrell sent a clever lob narrowly over the bar.

Donny's win followed Arsenal's 1-0 victory at Chelsea on the WSL's opening night and Exley said: "This can be the start of a big move forward for the women's game.

"There's so much quality around the new league and there are so many good young players coming through - I think the game could really take off now."

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see also
WSL enjoys second-night goal-fest
14 Apr 11 |  Women
What is the Women's Super League?
14 Apr 11 |  Women
Women lead way for English football
12 Apr 11 |  Football
Powell pleased with new women's league
11 Apr 11 |  Football
Women's Super League 'a step forward'
11 Apr 11 |  Football
Stoney joins Lincoln from Chelsea
16 Mar 11 |  Women
Encouraging the next generation
24 Mar 11 |  Student reports

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