Chelsea eased to a comfortable 4-1 win against Paris FC as Sam Kerr’s hat-trick helped them to a first UEFA Women’s Champions League victory of the season.
The result had looked in doubt at half-time after the visitors had stunned Emma Hayes’ side with an equaliser from defender Thea Greboval’s header, wiping out the lead given to last year’s semi-finalists when Matildas superstar Kerr turned in Lauren James’ cross.
But two goals early in the second period settled Chelsea nerves and ensured there would be no upset from the tournament debutants at Stamford Bridge on Friday (AEDT).
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Kerr grabbed her second and third in the space of seven minutes as she completed her hat-trick in 25 minutes before substitute Sophie Ingle capped the night off in stoppage time to ensure three points after last week’s controversial draw away to Real Madrid.
The Australian striker said “stitch up” with a smile as she was handed the matchball just as she joined DAZN for an interview on the pitch.
“It was difficult in the first half,” Kerr told DAZN with Chelsea second in Group D, two points behind Aivi Luick’s Hacken “They are a hard team to break down. Once we cleaned up our passes and lifted the level a bit, we helped ourselves out.”
Kerr was isolated for large periods, especially in the first half, but she still managed to celebrate a three-goal haul against French visitors Paris, who had fellow Aussie Sarah Hunter on the bench.
“The number nine in most teams has got to stay switched on and stay ready. That’s what I try to do every game,” said Kerr.
“When I’m not at my top fitness, it’s a little bit more difficult. I felt like tonight it was okay.”
Kerr, who has been working her way back to full fitness after an injury-interrupted FIFA Women’s World Cup, added: “I just need to keep building. I’m pretty close but not just there yet.”
Chelsea started unusually subdued and allowed Paris to have the better of the first 20 minutes, though neither side mustered much in the way of chances.
The first opening fell to James and it came from a mistake by Greboval at the back for Paris. The defender played a casual, aimless pass out from the edge of the box straight to the feet of Erin Cuthbert, whose quick ball forward was dummied by Kerr and allowed to run on to James.
With the goal at her mercy, Chelsea’s hat-trick hero last time out against Liverpool opened up her right foot and skewed horribly wide of the post.
Yet the England winger soon made amends. On the half-hour mark the ball was worked to her wide on the left by Jess Carter, and with a deft step-over to fox her marker she carried it inside and delivered a curling cross that pitched perfectly between goalkeeper and defender for Kerr to lunge in and prod her side in front.
Johanna Rytting Kaneryd spurned a golden chance to double the lead when she nipped in behind and was denied brilliantly at close range by Chiamaka Nnadozie in the visitors’ goal.
Within minutes Chelsea’s advantage was wiped out and the equaliser was simply worked. Gaetane Thiney’s corner was swept over from the right for Paris, and there rising highest above the grounded Cuthbert from 12 yards was Greboval, her header looping into the air and over the head of Carter whose goalline intervention succeeded only in helping the ball into the roof of the net.
Chelsea goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger saved her team in the first minute of the second half, flying out at the feet of Mathilde Bourdieu after she had stepped inside Kadeisha Buchanan to make space to shoot.
It turned out to be the moment on which the game turned. Within two minutes, Chelsea’s lead was restored and it was substitute Fran Kirby who began the move.
Picking up the ball wide on the right, she looked up and fed the charging Rytting Kaneryd bursting forward from midfield. Her low cross into the six-yard box evaded the defender by a millimetre, and there stealing in with a poacher’s finish was Kerr to make it 2-1.
Chelsea were out of sight when Kerr completed her hat-trick – her second in the Champions League and first since bagging four goals in a game in October last year – Berger’s long, searching kick requiring only two touches from the Australian before she hoisted the ball high over Nnadozie, who may have misjudged its flight as she sought to paw it out from underneath the crossbar.
“I thought I was kind of lucky,” Kerr reflected. “I saw her backpedalling and thought I’m going to try it.
“It’s kind of hard as a goalkeeper to back-peddle and save those. I don’t mind those ones to be honest.”
From there, Paris competed gamely and might have pulled one back late on had Berger not been alert to flip a high shot over the bar with her fingertips.
But Chelsea’s superiority showed. With victory assured, Ingle slid the ball home unmarked from a corner at the death as their bid to send departing boss Hayes out with a Champions League medal began in earnest.
After the game, Chelsea boss Hayes told DAZN: “I felt we lacked a player closer to Sam Kerr so I brought on Fran Kerby at half-time.
“I thought that worked really well. Fran’s little bit of quality gave us what we needed.”