Chelsea boss Emma Hayes praised striker Sam Kerr as she dedicated her side’s third consecutive FA Cup victory to Blues fans in a year in which she feels the wider club has “suffered”.
Kerr struck the winner past England goalkeeper Mary Earps to fire Chelsea to a 1-0 victory over Manchester United in front of a crowd of 77,390 at Wembley, a new world record for a women’s domestic club fixture.
It was the fifth time in nine years Chelsea have triumphed in the showpiece and another game-changing moment from Australia international Kerr, who latched on to substitute Pernille Harder’s pinpoint pass to steer home the winner in the 68th minute.
“I’ve never coached a player like her,” said Hayes. “For a player to have such convictions, such confidence, such courage, the way she attacks everything.
“What I love about Sam is she is willing to take responsibility for the team at the top end of the pitch, but I think it’s important to mention Pernille Harder, because without Pernille Harder she wouldn’t have got that goal.
“So congratulations to the team, the squad. It will bug me if I don’t say this – I’m a football fan and I’ve watched how much my club has suffered this year.
“We’ve had ownership changes, the men’s team hasn’t been brilliant, Chelsea fans this is for you. I hope we had a little bit of joy tonight. I hope we gave you something where you can smile about it this year. The whole club, owners included.”
It ultimately came down to fine margins for Marc Skinner’s United side, who had reached a major final for the first time since their promotion from the Championship in 2019.
They started brightly and largely controlled a first half in which they had a goal chalked off for offside and a penalty appeal by Nikita Parris turned down, officials ultimately determining she had been brought down by Niamh Charles outside the area.
Second-half substitutions saw Chelsea spring back to life after a first period that led Hayes to agree with assistant manager Paul Green, who branded it the “worst first half of FA Cup football we’ve ever had”.
Her mood had shifted by the time the final whistle blew and the Prince of Wales draped a medal around her neck.
She said: “I think our team has been in transition, with six different players in the starting line-up to last year’s final. My big thing is, ‘How can we still keep winning while transitioning?’
“So this year of trying to get as many players as many opportunities and keep developing their experiences in all areas of the pitch and to win knowing we’re in that stage, this is far and away my most memorable FA Cup final.”
Skinner’s side still lead the Women’s Super League, although second-placed Chelsea, with a game in hand, are just one point behind.
It has been a year of firsts for his team, who are tantalisingly close to clinching a first ever Champions League berth.
Beyond grateful of the support you’ve given us on this #WomensFACup journey.
— Manchester United Women (@ManUtdWomen) May 14, 2023
Skinner said: “I’m not going to stop and this team’s not going to stop. If anyone thinks we’re going away, we’re not going away.
“These are just moments you have to win and we haven’t done that today, but we’ve got a really good account of ourselves and we’ll be back, no doubt about that.
“We know how special our club is and how we need to be synonymous with success. Along the way you get a few bumps and today is one of them.”