Hamano helps Chelsea beat Spurs to set up title showdown on final day

Chelsea's Maika Hamano celebrates scoring the only goal of the game.Photograph: Matthew Childs/Action Images/Reuters

Emma Hayes asked her Chelsea players “to visualise the performance they want to see” before their 1-0 defeat of Tottenham that kept them level on points with Manchester City going into the final day of the season.

Only a win would do, and the bigger win the better, with Chelsea’s goal difference only one better than City’s going into the London derby. The FA Cup winners Manchester United await Chelsea at Old Trafford on Saturday, while Man City play Aston Villa needing Chelsea to lose or draw, or to better their goal difference by two on the day.

Maika Hamano’s first-half strike earned the win that ensured the teams remain neck-in-neck at the top and sets up what promises to be an exciting finale to the season.

“I enjoyed the Bristol City performance, I want to see similar things,” Hayes told her players before kick-off.

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This was never going to be as simple as the 8-0 drubbing of the Women’s Super League’s bottom side, which closed the goal difference gap on their title rivals. However, the moment City lost to Arsenal and re-opened the door for Hayes to earn a fifth consecutive title before her exit, it felt as if the London side would not just put a foot through the gap but shove the door with renewed vigour.

Robert Vilahamn made three changes to the team that suffered a chastening 4-0 defeat to Manchester United in the FA Cup final on Sunday. Goalkeeper Becky Spencer was replaced by Barbora Votikova for the visit of the WSL title holders and Celin Bizet and Grace Clinton returned to the starting XI, with the latter having been ineligible to play against her parent club in the final.

Meanwhile, Chelsea swapped out three of the starting lineup that thrashed Bristol City a week and a half ago, with Sophie Ingle and Sjoeke Nüsken on the bench and Eve Perisset absent entirely in favour of Catarina Macário, Melanie Leupolz and Ashley Lawrence.

There was a grin from the Chelsea manager two minutes in, a rendition of “Emma Hayes, you’ll miss PG Tips” lightening the mood at the start of a tense penultimate league fixture.

The visiting team dominated the opening half, playing towards a stand packed with almost as many visiting supporters as there were home fans. They twice tested Votikova within five minutes, first through Macário, then Aggie Beever-Jones, and had a solid penalty shout waved away by the referee, Emily Heaslip, shortly afterwards when the ball appeared to come off Amanda Nildén’s arm and Luana Bühler’s arm in quick succession.

After Millie Bright’s wonderful cross-field ball to Niamh Charles was hurried into the box sooner than needed and Guro Reiten’s effort beat Votikova but was cleared by Amy James-Turner, it started to feel as if luck had abandoned the visitors.

The goal that would ease those creeping nerves came in the 37th minute when Macário’s ball wide to Reiten was swept across the face of goal by the forward and met by Hamano at full stretch.

A bad injury to Nildén in added time at the end of the half forced a change, with Charlotte Grant on after the defender went off on a stretcher.

A couple of corners for the home team breathed life into their attack, the first well read and cleared by Bright, before the second dangerously ping-ponged around the box with Beever-Jones eventually blocking Luana Bühler’s effort.

Chelsea weathered that brief pressure and began to regain control heading into the final 20 minutes. With Vilahamn desperate to give the home fans something to celebrate, Thomas and Vinberg entered.

There were changes too for Hayes, who sought the goal that would make their lead that bit more comfortable, with Jess Carter, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd and Nüsken coming on.

There was a golden opportunity for the late substitute Fran Kirby, but she was unable to get it to her feet and the ball came off the forward’s knee and went behind.

The single goal was enough for a win, but will it be enough for a title? We will find out on Saturday.

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