By Joe Brewin at Griffin Park
Arsenal Ladies endured a frustrating night at Griffin Park on Thursday as they lost out in the FA Women's Cup semi-final following an inspired display by Chelsea goalkeeper Sarah Quantrill.
Helen Bleazard’s magnificent first-half strike had put the Blues in charge of the tie before Dunia Susi’s late header rubbed salt into the wound for Laura Harvey's side. On another evening the story could have been so very different.
Chelsea controlled the first half an hour but Arsenal dominated the remainder of the match, albeit without reward. In the end, the hosts had their young goalkeeper to thank for her superb display in west London.
Harvey named her strongest available side for the match, with Kim Little, Rachel Yankey and Steph Houghton all included in a powerful five-man midfield.
Jennifer Beattie made only her second start of the campaign in attack, replacing Danielle Carter who dropped to the bench.
Chelsea made three changes for the occasion, with Kate Longhurst - scorer of a spectacular consolation last week as Arsenal won 3-1 in the Super League - spearheading the attack.
If the Gunners were expecting a similar match to that comfortable victory at Emirates Stadium, they were to be quickly disproven. Chelsea were brighter, sharper and altogether more dangerous in the opening 30 minutes.
The hosts went closest to breaking the deadlock early on following a sweeping move upfield, but Longhurst was denied by a smart stop from Emma Byrne.
Chelsea enjoyed the majority of possession in the opening stages but it was Arsenal who could have edged themselves ahead after 20 minutes when Ciara Grant nodded a Little free-kick narrowly over.
But, just three minutes later, Matt Beard’s side took the lead - in style. Welsh international Bleazard burst through the heart of the Gunners’ midfield before unleashing an unstoppable effort past Byrne from long range.
Few could argue against the hosts’ lead but Harvey’s side swiftly set about trying to restore parity.
The influential Yankey found herself in a similar position to the Chelsea goalscorer but saw her rasping drive whistle narrowly over the bar.
By this point Harvey’s side had found a foothold and it was they who were doing all of the legwork by the end of the first period. They went close again through Alex Scott’s deflected effort, before headers from Grant and Katie Chapman were directed narrowly off target.
The visitors almost found a way through 10 minutes before the interval when Yankey found Jordan Nobbs just inside the area, but the young midfielder was denied by a fine stop from Quantrill.
There was still time for Chelsea to register an effort on goal before half time, however, but Danni Buet’s menacing free-kick flashed just wide of the target.
Harvey’s side flew out of the traps in the second half and almost drew level within four minutes of the restart. Yankey’s deflected effort looped over a helpless Quantrill but Sophie Perry was on hand to hook the ball off the line.
Just five minutes later they were to be denied again. Yankey’s superb cross was met by an onrushing Nobbs, whose powerful effort was beaten away to safety by Quantrill.
The Chelsea goalkeeper was in inspired form after a bright display at the Emirates seven days ago and was on hand again to punch clear under significant pressure inside the box.
Little saw a quick free-kick pushed wide before Scott’s deflected effort was clutched gratefully by Quantrill moments later.
The hosts had withstood wave after wave of Arsenal pressure up to this point and there were few signs of it easing off. Yankey saw another strike deflected narrowly over, before Houghton fired wide.
But, try as they might, there was no way through for the dominant visitors. Chelsea held firm and, with fve minutes remaining, they booked their place in the final against Birmingham when Susi headed home.
Quantrill’s incredible stop from Scott in injury time served only to put the seal on what had been a stunning display from the 21-year-old.
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