Chelsea’s Sam Kerr ends Servette resistance to open up group lead

Emma Hayes praised the late cameo of Lauren James as “exceptional” after a second-half strike from Sam Kerr helped Chelsea to a hard-fought win over the Swiss side Servette.

“She came on the pitch and the ball stuck, she held it up really well, she linked really well, probably could have had two goals,” said the Chelsea manager of the 20-year-old James, who signed in the summer from Manchester United. “We’ve made no secret of the fact that we’ve got to build her fitness but she showed that she can bring something to the team, her technical qualities are outrageous and I’m looking forward to building on tonight’s debut. I thought she was exceptional.”

James was introduced in the 85th minute, with her brother, the Chelsea right-back Reece James, and her family watching on, shortly after Servette’s Amandine Soulard had been shown a second yellow card. The change came perhaps later than planned as the Blues were made to work hard for the win by a side they comfortably beat 7-0 last week in the reverse fixture.

“We got three points and we got a clean sheet and we’re the top of the group,” said a relieved Hayes. “I think the first half was nowhere near our standards. I think it improved in the second half but fair play to Servette, they made it difficult for us. They had a lot of bodies behind the ball, very aggressive and for that reason, I think the time it took us to get into the game.”

The victory extends Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Champions League “group of death” to three points, with a Juventus team led by the former Arsenal manager Joe Montemurro having beaten Wolfsburg 2-0 in the earlier fixture.

Hayes had played down talk of a repeat of their away romp before this return fixture at Kingsmeadow and said she expected them to press the Blues higher, as they had effectively in the second half in Geneva. The Servette manager, Eric Sévérac, was a little more cautious and joked that he would be “building a wall in front of the goalkeeper”. To some extent his team did that effectively, aided by some poor finishing from the hosts.

By half-time in Geneva Chelsea were six goals up, with Fran Kirby and Kerr scoring twice each within a 10-minute spell. Under the floodlights in Norbiton they had failed to break through a significantly more organised Servette.

“We worked hard and studied our performance from last week, what to do, what not to do, and how we could better perform tactically,” said the Servette captain, Alyssa Lagonia. “We worked really hard and it’s a shame we came out with a loss but we can be proud of our performance.”

In the seventh minute Kerr scuffed a shot wide from close range after Kirby sent in a teasing cross, although she was subsequently flagged offside. It was a sign of the frustrations to come as Kirby, Beth England and Kerr were made to labour as they tried to carve out chances but a string of fine saves from Portugal’s Inês Pereira helped to keep them at bay.

In the second half there was more urgency to the home attack, although there was a moment of confusion when the referee pointed to the spot to the delight of the home crowd, awarding Chelsea a penalty after an apparent handball – except it had bounced off the hand of England and not a Servette player. But the referee, Hristiyana Guteva, corrected herself after protestations from the Servette players and a somewhat confused England wandered away.

Moments later chaos in the Chelsea box allowed Mónica Mendes to backheel the loose ball goalwards but a superb low hand from the goalkeeper Zecira Musovic pushed it away.

The scare fuelled the breakthrough moments later. Kirby fed Kerr on the right of the box and the Australian forward nutmegged Nathalia Spälti and fired in to the relief of the home supporters.

With five minutes remaining and Servette reduced to 10 after Soulard was sent off for catching Niamh Charles with a late challenge, having received a first yellow for bringing down Kerr not long before, Hayes decided the time was right for James to make her long-awaited Chelsea debut.