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    ‘This has definitely been my hardest year’, says Emma Hayes after leading Chelsea to their sixth WSL title

    EMMA HAYES believes Chelsea’s title-winning chase this season has been her hardest after leading her side to a fourth successive league crown. Sam Kerr’s brace and Guro Reiten’s skillful strike paved the way for the Blues’ 3-0 win against Reading with the Royals relegated to the Women’s Championship. 
    Emma Hayes hailed Chelsea for finding different ways to win after the Blues lifted their sixth WSL titleCredit: Getty
    Hayes described Chelsea’s triumph as a victory for her backroom staff as well as her team but said she was sad to see Kelly Chambers’ side relegatedCredit: PA
    Chelsea notched up 19 wins in 22 WSL games on their way to winning the titleCredit: Getty
    Chelsea’s sixth title win came in a season that saw Hayes absent from the dugout for a period with the head coach recovering from an emergency hysterectomy. 
    Her players maintained their winning streak during that spell, with Blues assistant Denise Reddy and general manager Paul Green on the touchline and Hayes in touch with them remotely.
    And their domestic form picked up following their gaffer’s return. 
    Towards the end of the season the team won their last seven games across all competitions scoring 25 goals and conceding just once. 
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    During that run the Blues lifted the FA Cup for a fifth time.
    And their only domestic losses this term occurred against Liverpool in the league in September, and to Arsenal in the Conti Cup final in March.
    Hayes, 46, said: “This has definitely been the hardest year.
    “I’m relieved that it’s over, for lots of reasons.
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    “I’m actually a bit sad because winning the league and relegating a friend doesn’t feel good in my soul, with who I am. 
    “It’s a victory for the team because my backroom staff have carried me in so many different ways this year. 
    “They’ve been unbelievable, particularly in the first part of the season when I was unwell. 
    “The team has carried each other and the senior players who didn’t play as much.
    “I think other seniors picked them up, and the second half of the season we saw so many of our newer players start to bear fruit. 
    “We found different ways to win, and you have to, it can’t look the same all the time.”
    Chelsea’s title triumph saw them break the record for the most wins in a season by a WSL side with the team winning 19 of their 22 games this term. 
    One of their standout performers this term has been Norway forward Reiten who has notched up nine goals in the WSL this term. 
    Hayes added: “Guro deserves to be recognised as one of the best players in the world because she is
     “She’s my player of the season. She’s unreal and exceptional. She’s really grown up and become a leader in this team.
    “I think (for us) when you’re always chasing the whole year, because you lose the first game and then games are cancelled.
    “It almost felt like the pressure wasn’t on us in many ways, because we were never in the front position for long. 
    “This year we knew we had to dig out results sometimes when we didn’t create many chances, those sort of things. 
    “It’s just unbelievable character from the players to do that. 
    “I think it’s the same off the pitch, my staff have been unreal at keeping the team ticking along.”
    Reading’s loss sees Kelly Chambers’ side return to the Championship for the first time since 2015.
    The Royals have previously been one of the WSL’s most resilient sides achieving mid-table finishes in recent years, 
    Under Chambers, who is a mum-of-one and pregnant with her second child, the team finished fourth in 2018. 
    However injuries to players including Rachel Rowe and forward Deanne Rose has seen them struggle in recent months. 
    Royals boss Chambers  said: “When you’re trying to compete with the teams in and around us this season, it was always going to get harder and harder every season, especially when you haven’t had the investment to keep up with those teams. 
    “We are where we are now. It will hurt, especially for someone like myself who’s been here for so long.
    “It’s a case of reset, rebuild and go again.”
    Reading’s relegation comes in a year that has seen the club’s men’s side drop down from the Championship to League One. 
    On whether the women’s team will remain a full-time outfit, Chambers added: “I hope so.
    “We’ve got players and staff who are still with us in full-time capacity, so yeah, that’s what I want to happen.
    Kelly Chambers says Reading will be focused on a reset and rebuild following their relegationCredit: Getty
    “If we want to be a team who competes and bounces back in the championship that’s the way the championship is going now.
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    “If you are going to be in that league and you want to compete, you’ve got to be in that set-up.
    “They’re the plans I’ve put forward so fingers crossed that the club can support us doing that.” More

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    Kelly Smith backs Arsenal and Chelsea to ‘push on’ in Europe and reflects on ‘goosebumps’ moment at the Emirates

    KELLY SMITH is backing Arsenal to bounce back from their injury struggles and their younger stars to shine next term. And the Gunners legend, 44, reckons this season’s WSL title and relegation battles have made it one the most enthralling. 
    Arsenal will host Aston Villa in their final game of the WSL season at 2:30 pm todayCredit: Getty
    Centre-back Rafaelle is set to make her final appearance for the club with the Brazil star leaving Arsenal this summerCredit: Getty
    Kelly Smith believes Arsenal will grow and ‘kick on’ following the injury issues they have faced this seasonCredit: Getty
    Reading and Chelsea will go head-to-head in a game likely to decide who will be crowned WSL champions and which side drops into the Championship. 
    Three points for the Blues would guarantee them a fourth successive WSL crown under boss Emma Hayes.
    And a Royals victory could potentially see Kelly Chambers’ side, who are bottom, win their battle to beat the drop if Leicester lose or draw with Brighton. 
    Smith, who is a Barclays WSL ambassador, told SunSport: “It’s been so exciting because it’s all come down to the last day. 
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    “Whether it’s Man United or Chelsea winning, or whether it’s Leicester or Reading going down, it’s been the most competitive season. 
    “Kelly Chambers is a really good manager and she’s been in the league for a long time and Reading have been a mid-table team. 
    “But they’ve just fallen away as the season has gone on. 
    “It’s going to be a miracle needed for them to turn that around and beat a team that’s hungry to win a third title.”
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    A Reading defeat of Chelsea could also pave the way for Manchester United to lift the title for the first time should Marc Skinner’s team beat Liverpool. 
    Their clash at Prenton Hall  is one of six fixtures taking place later on the final day of this WSL season. 
    Of Skinner and Man United’s efforts, Smith added: “He’s done an incredible job, particularly defensively. 
    “He’s made them really sound and they’ve got the best defensive record in the WSL. 
    “The partnership between Hayley Ladd and Katie Zelem has been exceptional in the middle and they’ve got goals coming from everyone.
    Smith reckons Manchester United have become more defensively sound under Marc SkinnerCredit: PA
    “They’ve done exceptionally well beating Arsenal back-to-back this season and winning against Man City. You can see there’s belief.”
    Last month saw Smith return to her old side to take up a coaching role working until the end of this term. 
    Her work with the Gunners has come in a season in which the team have been contending with injuries to key players including Kim Little, Leah Williamson, Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema. 
    Smith, who lifted four league titles and five FA Cups with Arsenal, said: “It’s been tough for them losing so many key players to long-term injuries. 
    “It’s been psychologically difficult for the squad but they’ve worked with a sport psychologist and other players have stepped up.
    “Lotte Wubben-Moy has been quality at the back.
    “And younger players coming in like Katherine Kuhl and Victoria Pelova have got a lot more game time. 
    “When you consider those we’ve lost (to injuries) like Kim Little, Lia Walti, Beth Mead, Viv Miedema – those players probably wouldn’t have got a lot of match time.
    “They would have been coming off the bench to be impact players.
    “They certainly will grow from this and will kick on next season. 
    “I expect next season to be even better for Arsenal. I see it day-in, day-out with the quality in this squad.
    “They really get what Jonas (Eidevall) wants from them.”
    Smith was in the dugout when the Gunners battled Wolfsburg in a Champions League second-leg semis watched by a record Emirates crowd. 
    And while they fell to a 3-2 loss being at the ground filled with more than 60,000 fans was an unforgettable experience. 
    Smith, who won the contest in 2007 with Arsenal,  added: “It is goosebumps stuff really
    “Walking out as a former player and now a coach and just looking around, it’s just like ‘wow, this is unreal’. 
    Smith expects her old club and Chelsea to push on in Europe next term following their run to the Champions League semi-finals this season.   
    She said: “Chelsea and Arsenal are getting closer given they have reached the semi-finals. 
    Smith hopes to see bigger crowds at women’s games next season following some record turnouts this termCredit: Getty
    “Our players certainly learned a lot throughout their campaign playing at the Emirates.
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    “There’s going to be new players coming in for next season. 
    “Top players want to be playing Champions League football. If Arsenal can secure that it’s a major bonus for the club.” More

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    Hayes and Chelsea ready to face a Reading side ‘fighting for their lives’ in a pivotal WSL title and survival clash

    EMMA HAYES insists Chelsea’s focus is on what they can control in their bid to be crowned WSL champions for a fourth successive season. The Blues manager is preparing her team to face a Reading side ‘fighting for their lives’ with the Royals aiming to avoid relegation.
    Chelsea will be a targeting a win that would see them clinch a third successive league and FA Cup doubleCredit: PA
    A win against Chelsea for bottom-placed Reading could see them remain in the WSL if Leicester draw with or lose to BrightonCredit: Getty
    Emma Hayes hopes to steer Chelsea a fourth WSL title win on the bounceCredit: Getty
    Saturday’s match is one of six end-of-season clashes, all kicking off at 2:30 pm.
    The result of this encounter and Manchester United’s duel with Liverpool will decide whether the Blues retain the title, or if the Red Devils win it for the first time in their history. 
    Hayes said: “We respect that we’re facing a team fighting for their lives for a manager I know very well. 
    “For us, we have to take care of all the right things. 
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    “When I think back to every campaign (where we’ve won the title), we’ve only ever won the league by a couple of points at the best.
    “This is just business as usual for us”.
    A Chelsea away victory would see them claim a third successive league and FA Cup double.  
    And three points for Kelly Chambers’ Royals would see them leap out of the drop zone if rivals Leicester fail to beat Brighton. 
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    Last season Chelsea lost 1-0 on the road to Reading with Canada forward Deanne Rose netting the winning goal.
    However Hayes says that defeat will not enter her players’ minds in their duel with the Royals. 
    The Blues chief added: “We don’t think about that. We’re in a position to control the outcome.
    “Everybody behind the scenes (staff and players) have worked so hard to get to this point.
    “The focus, the concentration and consistency is all I’ve been interested in with them all week, to make sure that we’re in a position to perform. 
    “Everybody knows their roles and tasks and we’re in the best mindset. 
    Should Chelsea lose and Man United beat the Reds away, Marc Skinner’s side will become WSL champions for the first time in their history. 
    On whether she will keep an eye on United’s score, Hayes said: “I might ask at halftime but for the most part I will focus on just what we were in control of.
    “If I need to ask in the second half then I will do but I don’t think about it.
    “I just think about getting off to the right start.”
    A Reading loss would see them drop out of the top-flight eight years on from winning promotion to the WSL.” 
    Royals head coach Chambers said: “As tough as the challenge ahead is for us, it is a game of football. 
    “We are where we are and for different reasons, and honest conversations have happened.
    “As much as it is a hard position to be in right now, the players have really attacked the week in a positive mindset to try to do everything they can for the weekend.
    “We are still in the fight. We have to leave everything out there.”
    Between 2018 and 2022 the Royals have been a solid mid-table side with the team finishing fifth three years ago.
    This term the club have struggled with injuries including forward Rose sidelined with an Achilles issue last September.
    Deanne Rose netted for Reading when they beat Chelsea 1-0 in the league in December 2021Credit: Reuters
    The Canada ace made her return with a 60th minute substitute appearance during Reading’s 4-1 loss to Tottenham last time out. 
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    Chambers added: “Deanne gives us a completely different dimension to the squad that we haven’t had all season. 
    “What we saw (from her) against Tottenham is what we’ve missed this season. More

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    Arsenal and Brazil ace Rafaelle reportedly due to leave the Gunners’ WSL side this summer

    RAFAELLE is reportedly set to leave Arsenal this summer bringing her 18-month spell at the Women’s Super League side to an end. The Brazil centre-back could be headed to the USA’s National Women’s Soccer League and is thought to be attracting interest from Orlando Pride. 
    Rafaelle is reportedly set to leave Arsenal for pastures new this summerCredit: Getty
    The Brazil central defender is thought to be a target for American club Orlando PrideCredit: Getty
    The Athletic reports the club, which competes in the United States’ top tier, have been linked with a move for the player.
    Rafaelle, who joined the Gunners last January from Chinese team Changchun Zhuoyue, has established herself as a key figure in the club’s back line. 
    This term the Bahia-born defender has made 15 WSL appearances for Arsenal who play Aston Villa in their final league game this season.
    She has developed an impressive defensive partnership with Leah Williamson with both players helping their side to a 3-1 Conti Cup final defeat of Chelsea in March.
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    The Brazilian scored the third goal in a game that saw Arsenal pick up their first trophy win since 2019 and their first piece of silverware under head coach Jonas Eidevall. 
    And she netted a first-half equaliser during the Gunners’ a first-leg Women’s Champions League semi-final 2-2 draw with Wolfsburg.
    She also featured in their narrow 3-2 second-leg semis loss to the German giants played in front of a record crowd of more than 60,000 at the Emirates.
    On the international stage Rafaelle has helped Brazil to lift the Copa America Feminina trophy twice in 2018 and 2022. 
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    Last year the centre-back, who has 77 senior international caps, skippered the team as they won the tournament for a fourth consecutive time. 
    Arsenal will take on Aston Villa at Meadow Park in their last game of the seasonCredit: Getty
    Rafaelle and her team-mates will face Carla Ward’s Villa side at home this Saturday.
    Villa, who are fifth, are on course achieve their highest finish in the WSL since their promotion to the division in 2020. 
    A win for the Gunners, who are third, will see them qualify for next season’s Champions League. More

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    Majority of Women’s Champions League matches to go behind paywall next season with final remaining free to view

    THE bulk of next term’s Women’s Champions League games will go behind a paywall according to sports streaming company DAZN. Viewers will be required to pay for 42 of the 61 matches in the contest with 19 fixtures remaining free to watch. 
    Two thirds of Women’s Champions League matches aired by DAZN will go behind a paywall from next seasonCredit: Alamy
    The final will be among the matches that will stay as free to view from next termCredit: Getty
    Free-to-view games will include the final and one semi-final and two matches from the quarter-final stage.
    The move comes two seasons into DAZN’s four-year agreement to exclusively air the Women’s Champions League fixtures. 
    It also comes two years after Uefa introduced a 16-team group stage format with centralised streaming coverage via DAZN’s YouTube channel. 
    DAZN’s global markets CEO Veronica Diquattro said: “We want to help the women’s game realise its potential, by reaching audiences and by developing its obvious commercial appeal to create a virtuous circle of investment, growth, raising standards and overall interest.”
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    To date the contest’s fixtures have been watched in more than 230 countries with DAZN having 362,000 subscribers to its platform.
    And last year’s final, which saw Lyon beat Barcelona 3-1 at the home of Juventus, was watched by 3.6million viewers.
    This figure marked a 56 per cent increase on the audience that tuned in to watch Barcelona beat Chelsea 4-0  in the contest’s decider in 2021. 
    Away from its online coverage this season’s competition has seen some record turnouts at knockout stage games.
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    A crowd of 27,697 flocked to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea’s first-leg semis clash with Barcelona in April.
    Arsenal’s clash with Wolfsburg at the Emirates was among the fixtures that attracted a record crowd this seasonCredit: Getty
    The match set a new record for spectator numbers at a Women’s Champions League game in England before Arsenal’s clash with Wolfsburg at the Emirates. 
    The Gunners’ semi-final second leg battle with the German giants a month later drew a crowd of 60,063 
    The fixture saw them break the attendance record for a women’s club game in England.  More

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    Hayes hails Eriksson’s ‘fairytale’ finish to Chelsea career as Blues skipper nets during defeat of Arsenal

    EMMA HAYES saluted Magda Eriksson’s fairytale finish to her Blues spell as Chelsea made it a tough day for Arsenal with their 2-0 win. The Sweden star’s first – and potentially last – WSL goal helped move her side within touching distance of a fourth successive title.
    Magda Eriksson doubled Chelsea’s lead against Arsenal with her last goal for the team at KingsmeadowCredit: Getty
    Eriksson and Pernille Harder are set to make their final Chelsea appearances in the Blues last WSL game next SundayCredit: Getty
    Emma Hayes’ players will face Reading in their final game this seasonCredit: Getty
    The Blues’ home victory saw them avenge their Conti Cup final loss to Arsenal.
    It also derailed the Gunners’ top three hopes before Manchester City’s trip to neighbours Man United this evening. 
    And Eriksson and Pernille Harder made their penultimate Blues appearance with the duo leaving Chelsea as free agents this summer. 
    Hayes said: “This is so fitting (that) of course she’s scored today. 
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    “Everybody wanted that fairytale for her. She has been our captain and leader. 
    “I know the work that has gone on behind the scenes to get the team to where it is. 
    I just looked onto the pitch and all I see is the years of work in the background. 
    “The meetings, the analysis, the disagreements, the good times and the moments you’re sick looking at each other. 
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    “It’s all of those things. And this team has a habit of peaking when it matters. 
    There’s three senior leaders in our team (in Magda, Millie Bright and Maren Mjelde).
    “I think it’s important that the baton is passed on through them.”
    Stina Blackstenius went close to netting for Arsenal in the first halfCredit: Getty
    Of Eriksson and Harder playing the final home game at Kingsmeadow, Hayes added: “They’ve had amazing years here and an amazing time. 
    “They’re not going to be here (from next season) and we have had a chance to replace them with something different.
    “It is not them, we can never do that. If there is going to be a separation, they want nothing more than to see Chelsea continuing to thrive. 
    “On that end it’s been good. I respect them both so much as people. I’m proud of them.”
    Before the game Jonas Eidevall spoke of Arsenal needing to “keep the ball well” if they were to stand a chance of beating their rivals. 
    While possession was fairly even in the first half it was Emma Hayes’ side who were the most ruthless in front of goal. 
    Blues warning signs came as early as the 10th minute with Sam Kerr seeing a goal disallowed as offside. 
    Moments later Stina Blackstenius threatened for the visitors going one-on-one with Ann-Katrin Berger forcing a fine block from the Blues goalkeeper. 
    The hosts had the upper hand in the first half with four shots on target converting twice within 41 minutes. 
    Guro Reiten slid home Chelsea’s opener following Eve Perisset’s cross in the 22nd minute.
    Frida Maanum came close to bagging an equaliser with Berger having to claw the ball from dropping into the net after spilling.
    And Eriksson made it 2-0 with a tap in after Kerr’s headed assist close to halftime.  
    Eidevall altered things in the second spell with Steph Catley on for Kathrine Kuhl and the Gunners gaining the upper hand in attack. 
    And they won a penalty that skipper Katie McCabe fired well wide of goal. 
    The hosts weather pressure from Arsenal to go five points clear at the top.
    And they could become champions if the Red Devils lose their clash with Manchester City this evening. 
    A City win could also  put Arsenal’s Champions League qualification hopes in jeopardy with the race going to the wire. 
    Jonas Eidevall’s side’s battle to qualify for the Champions League could go the last day of this season if Man City beat Man UnitedCredit: Getty
    Gunners boss Eidevall said: “My mindset has been that we need to do everything in every single minute of the season to try to finish as high as possible. 

    “Nothing changes because of today’s result.
    “If we look at it in a positive way, it should be in our own hands in control of our own destiny and that is the preference.” More

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    Eidevall reckons injuries to Arsenal aces have made this season one of the toughest of his career

    JONAS EIDEVALL admits Arsenal’s injury concerns have made this season one of the toughest of his coaching career. The third-placed Gunners visit Kingsmeadow later for a lunchtime duel with leaders Chelsea in their penultimate WSL game this season. 

    Jonas Eidevall’s players will be hoping for a repeat of the display that saw them beat Chelsea in the Conti Cup finalCredit: Getty
    A win for the Gunners could see the WSL title race go right to the wire if Man United beat Manchester City laterCredit: Getty
    However, they will be without the services of Lia Walti who became the latest first-team player to have their season ended by injury.
    Kim Little, Laura Wienroither, Leah Williamson Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema are their other key figures sidelined with hamstring and knee ligament concerns.
    But he expects Walti to be fit for the World Cup despite the crocked Gunners ace missing their final two fixtures.
    Eidevall, 40, said: “It definitely has been tough.
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    “It is tough to have players injured because you feel so much for them, but also to constantly have to come up with new solutions and prepare new ways.
    “It’s on different levels for me. One is to think forward, think about the next action, but still don’t forget that there is an individual and person behind every injury 
    “We need to take care and support that person as well as we can.
    “Another thing is to find solutions to be flexible in the way that we think.
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    “When you’re in the middle of it, just keep going one game at a time. There are two more games and then we’re done.”
    Walti was carried off on a stretcher during Arsenal’s 4-1 win at Everton on Wednesday after Aggie Beever-Jones’ late tackle caught her ankle.
    However Eidevall believes the midfielder will be ready to play for Switzerland, with her team facing the Philippines in a World Cup group stage opener on July 21.
    The Gunners boss added: “It’s not a multiple month injury so she should be able to recover well in time for the World Cup which is, of course, very important for her.
    “I’m very happy for her that it wasn’t more serious. I was afraid it could be, so this is a relief.”
    Arsenal’s clash with Chelsea will be the first time the rivals have faced each other since the Gunners’ 3-1 Conti Cup final win against Blues in March.
    And Eidevall expects his players will face a different performance, with their opponents having won their last five games across all competitions, scoring 20 goals.
    He said: “We have a flexible mind and will be prepared that it will be a Chelsea team that will look a little bit different than it did the last time out.”
    The match will see Pernille Harder and Chelsea captain Magda Eriksson making their final Blues appearances at Kingsmeadow, with the duo leaving the club.
    Magda Eriksson and Pernille Harder will play their final game at Kingsmeadow with the duo leaving Chelsea at the end of this seasonCredit: Getty
    And Emma Hayes is keen to see them get a good send off.
    The Chelsea boss said: “I’m proud of Pernille and Mags. As a football club it’s important we send players who meant a lot to us off in the way that we want.”
    Hayes’ Blues could retain the WSL crown with a win against Arsenal should Manchester United lose to Man City at Leigh Sports Village today. 
    Emma Hayes expects her team to face a tough challenge from Arsenal in their final London derby this termCredit: Reuters
    However is keen not to underestimate the threat posed by the Gunners. 
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    She added: : “We haven’t won anything.
    “We’ve got to play arguably one of the best teams in Europe this year and that will be extremely challenging.” More

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    Tottenham boss Jepson believes Bethany England is worthy of a World Cup squad chance with Lionesses

    VICKY JEPSON says Bethany England is worth a Lionesses World Cup spot after Spurs won their WSL survival fight.The Tottenham striker’s double took her to 12 goals for the season and left bottom-club Reading on the brink of relegation.
    Bethany England and Kit Graham both netted as Tottenham won their fight to avoid relegationCredit: Getty
    England was voted Tottenham’s Supporters’ Club’s player of the season following her attacking displaysCredit: Getty
    It was also her fifth goal in three matches at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with the team playing in the first ever Premier League and WSL double-header at the venue.
    Interim boss Jepson, whose team play West Ham in their last game this term, said: “I’m over the moon personally (with the result). 
    “The task was to keep us in the WSL and that task is complete and we can enjoy that status in the WSL. 
    “We still have one game left to play and we certainly don’t want to be complacent going into that.”
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    England’s clinical finishing for Tottenham has seen her become the third highest scorer in the top-flight this season.
    Her tally of 12 goals includes 10 notched in 11 WSL games for Jepson’s side who beat Reading 4-1.
    The Tottenham chief added: “There have been opportunities in games where Beth has pulled goals from out of nowhere due to individual brilliance.
    “I think she should be going to the World Cup but I’m not going to tell Sarina Wiegman how to do her job.
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    “It’s up to her but I think she’s a top English scorer in the WSL.”
    The deadlock was broken in yesterday’s game when England headed home in the 29th minute when she pounced on a cross from Molly Bartrip.
    Celin Bizet doubled the hosts’ lead four minutes before half-time when she fired beyond keeper
    Grace Moloney following Eveliina Summanen’s through ball.
    Royals boss Kelly Chambers shuffled her deck in the second half with Emma Harries replacing Sanne Troelsgaard and Deanne Rose on for Tia Primmer.
    But Spurs increased their advantage when England pounced on a back-pass from Easther Mayi Kith on 62 minutes.
    Kit Graham made it 4-0 after wrong footing Moloney with 15 minutes to go
    And Reading pulled one back when Justine Vanhaevermaet headed home in the 79th minute.
    Kelly Chambers’ Reading side will be relegated league rivals Leicester beat West Ham at home todayCredit: Getty
    If Leicester beat visiting West Ham today, the Royals will be relegated.
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    Chambers said: “We can’t be deluded about where we are and it is Chelsea on the final day.
    “It was a tough day and a tough season. Leagues don’t lie, you end up where you should be.” More