Liverpool Ladies pip Chelsea to WSL title on dramatic final day

By Tony LeightonWomen's football reporter
Liverpool win dramatic WSL title

Liverpool retained their Women's Super League title on goal difference on a dramatic final day of the season.

The Reds started third - three points behind leaders Chelsea - but defeated Bristol 3-0, while the Blues lost 2-1 at Manchester City.

Birmingham began the day two points behind Chelsea, but could only draw 2-2 against Notts County.

Goals from Natasha Dowie, Lucy Bronze and a penalty from Fara Williams gave Liverpool victory.

Women's Super League - top three
TeamPlayedWonDrawnLostGoal differencePoints
Liverpool Ladies14752926
Chelsea Ladies14824726
Birmingham Ladies14743625

The afternoon had started with Chelsea boosted by the absence from the Manchester City team sheet of several key players, four days ahead of City's Continental Cup final against Arsenal.

And when Birmingham went a goal down inside three minutes, Aileen Whelan heading Notts in front, the prospects for Emma Hayes' team appeared still brighter.

Fiona Sullivan's close-range strike then doubled Notts County's lead as Birmingham began to drift out of the reckoning, but Chelsea's fortunes also took a downward turn when Jill Scott's 24th-minute drive flew into the net for a Man City opener.

Sue Smith - former England forward
"Chelsea must be so disappointed. I'm looking at the girls now and they are distraught, heads in hands. The championship was in their hands. Was the pressure a bit too much? Maybe so, because a lot of the players haven't been in this situation before.
"An extraordinary end top the season, and that's fantastic, because those of us who love women's football know this is exactly what we wanted. Liverpool have got better and better through the season as various injured players have come back, going about their business quietly and winning their games.
"It's a massive shock that the top two teams in the league both failed to get a win on the final day of the campaign. Extraordinary."

Ten minutes later Toni Duggan fired in from 18 yards to double the lead and suddenly Chelsea had to hope that results elsewhere would remain in their favour.

Birmingham pulled a goal back through Kirsty Linnet and were then awarded a penalty two minutes before half-time - but Karen Carney's spot-kick was saved by Carly Telford.

As Carney's shot was being saved, Liverpool were going agonisingly close to taking the lead against Bristol Academy, Bronze heading against the bar - but 10 minutes after the interval they finally got their noses in front, Dowie giving them the lead in Widnes.

Eniola Aluko
Chelsea and England's Eni Aluko was in tears at the end of the match in Manchester

By that time however, substitute Hannah Keryakoplis had equalised for Birmingham to put Dave Parker's side back in the hunt.

The Reds doubled their lead when Bronze drilled in a low cross-cross shot, and 20 minutes from time the unlikely title defence looked on as Williams' penalty virtually assured victory and gave a crucial boost to their goal difference.

But even as the Reds' celebrations were going on, Chelsea were putting themselves back in contention thanks to Gilly Flaherty's header.

That left Blues with 19 minutes plus stoppage time to get the goal and point they needed to make sure of taking the title.

The task was made a little easier when City defender Abbie McManus was sent off for elbowing.

But despite piling on the pressure they were unable to force an equaliser and - once full-time was confirmed at Birmingham too - it was Liverpool's former Chelsea manager Matt Beard who ended the season with the biggest smile in the WSL.

Aileen Whelan
Notts County's Aileen Whelan scored the first to damage Birmingham's hopes - County scored another before Blues fought back
Toni Duggan
Toni Duggan scored a remarkable second for Manchester City as Chelsea were rocked