When the ball came to Sam Cole’s feet in the Wembley penalty area, there was only one result.
It was a day of many firsts. Manchester United make their debut in a major cup final, with video assistant referees being used for the first time in a showcase and a world-record crowd for a domestic women’s game.
But while a few things were new, two key things remained the same – Chelsea won and Kerr scored the winner. Twelve months ago, she scored in extra-time in Chelsea’s win over Manchester City and in 2021, she scored twice in a 3-0 win over Arsenal.
Even Kerr herself saw it coming, messaging her friends ahead of time to say “backflip today” as she celebrated her commitment after hitting Pernil Hader’s cross in the second half.
It is sometimes difficult to comprehend the magnitude of Chelsea’s achievements as their dominance of women’s football in England expands every year, but a “tired” Emma Hayes was as emotional as ever.
It was their fifth FA Cup win in total and they became the first team to win a treble since Arsenal in 2008.
“I’m tired on the sideline. So, it’s more impressive. When we’re out of shape, the team can keep digging,” Hayes said.
“It was tough. Manchester United made it so tough. They’re going to keep going, they’re a fantastic football team. But it was a tough win.
“Hard work is important to me and we can definitely roll up our sleeves and carry on with the best of them.
“The team became the most flexible team around. Our team became a hybrid monster. We could float between things in a way that took years to master. They were very adaptable.”
“I’ve never coached a player like her”
Cole told BBC Sport it was “the mark of a great team”, winning without playing at their best.
Her manager Hayes felt the same way, describing the win as her “most memorable FA Cup win” because they needed to win it that way.
At the top of the list was Kerr’s ruthlessness, Harder’s influence when he came on to help Chelsea adjust their formation and suddenly find space behind United’s previously stubborn defense.
Wales international Sophie Ingle also made a huge difference off the bench, stabilizing the tempo and controlling the game in midfield as momentum turned in Chelsea’s favor in the second half.
Chelsea knew they only had to create one chance for Kerr and she would score.
“I’ve never coached a player like her. A player with such conviction, confidence and grit, the way she attacks everything,” Hayes said.
“But what I love most about Sam is her willingness to take responsibility at the top of the court. It’s important to mention Pernille Harder because without her, she wouldn’t have achieved that goal.”
“I had a great time”
Under Hayes, Chelsea have been the team to beat for years and the chase in the Women’s Super League has grown fiercer.
After losing the Carabao Cup final to rivals Arsenal earlier in the season, Chelsea were hungry for silverware at Wembley before being knocked out of the Champions League semi-finals by Barcelona.
They are still locked in a tight battle with Manchester United to retain the Women’s Super League title they have held for three years, but victory is still in Chelsea’s blood – and it doesn’t always have to be pretty.
“Sometimes we sneer and look down on winning football games the way we do,” Hayes said.
“A lot of times everything has to be perfect, but I think anyone in management will tell you performance can get so complicated over time.
“Finding a way to win when you’re not at your best is always, always the mark of a great team.”
Their FA Cup success was also a welcome gift for Chelsea fans who had watched the men’s side’s disappointing season.
Hayes added: “I’m a football fan and I’ve seen my club suffer this season from the change of ownership and the men’s team not doing well – Chelsea fans, this is for you guys.”
“When I have to sit at home alone and think about the work we do every day and the sacrifices we make, I know I’ve given it my whole life. I’ve given it all, no matter what.
“I’m still that kid at Camden who had an absolute time. I never tire of this. I could cry over it. I hope the Chelsea fans have a little bit of happiness. The whole club – owners included.”
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