The 2014 WSL title race boiled down to an enthralling three-horse race on the final day of the season.
Chelsea and Birmingham sat first and second in the table, while holders Liverpool were still in with an outside chance of defending their title, but needed the pair above them to slip up if they were to do so.
Having been building steadily for the last two seasons under Emma Hayes, Chelsea travelled to Manchester City knowing that victory would secure their maiden piece of silverware.
Opponents City started the day down in sixth (out of eight) and rested a selection of key players with one eye on the Continental Cup final in midweek. On paper, it was surely a formality for Chelsea.
However, what should have been a title party soon turned into an outright disaster for the Blues.
Goalkeeper Marie Hourihan landed awkwardly as she collected a cross and was forced off after just seven minutes, and by half time they were 2-0 down thanks to a long range Jill Scott strike and a fabulous volley from Toni Duggan.
20 minutes from time, Gilly Flaherty headed home to offer Chelsea a lifeline, and when Abbie McManus was sent off for a crafty but not-so-subtle elbow, the Blues piled on the pressure. With Birmingham held to a 2-2 draw by Notts County, just one goal would have been enough to win the title for Hayes’ side.
Chelsea huffed and puffed but could not find an equaliser, meaning that despite starting the day in third, Liverpool were remarkably crowned WSL champions.
The title had been Chelsea’s to lose, and, well, they lost it.
Starting XI: Brooks; McManus, Harding, Lipman, Broughman; Walsh, Scott, Christiansen; Duggan, Johnston, Flint
Key Talking Point
This was Manchester City’s first season in the WSL, having controversially been bumped up to the top tier at the expense of Doncaster Belles.
They had started the season slowly as new boss Nick Cushing attempted to get his slightly mismatched team to gel – internationals Jill Scott, Steph Houghton and Toni Duggan had been tempted to City by the club’s ambition, while there were still a number of players from the club’s time in the National Division, in addition to teenagers Keira Walsh and Natasha Flint.
Despite fielding a below-strength side against Chelsea and having nothing to play for, they flew out of the blocks and celebrated victory at full-time as though they themselves had just been crowned WSL champions.
The win acted as quite the confidence boost for City, as they beat favourites Arsenal in the Continental Cup final four days later.
Starting XI: Hourihan; Blundell, Flaherty, Bassett, Ogimi; Spence, Chapman, Ji, Borges; Williams, Aluko
Subs: Farrow, Buet
Key Talking Point
What was supposed to be Chelsea’s coronation lurched from one disaster to the next. Losing the pivotal Hourihan so early on was a huge blow; not the ideal game for replacement Clare Farrow to make her Chelsea debut.
The stand-in keeper could do nothing about Duggan’s spectacular volley, but looked suspect for Scott’s opening goal.
Chelsea just appeared to have choked under the pressure and expectation of winning that long-awaited first major trophy.
Eni Aluko would later cite the motivation of the heartache of the Manchester City defeat on the final day of the 2014 season as crucial, as the following season Chelsea completed a league and FA Cup double.
What Aged the Worst?
Natasha Flint was regarded as one of the finest young talents coming through at City as she broke into the first team at 17 alongside fellow teenager Keira Walsh.
However, while Walsh has blossomed into the midfield anchor for club and country as City have emerged as one of the strongest teams in England, Flint’s career began to stagnate.
In 2018/19, she was plying her trade in the third tier for Blackburn. She was clearly too good to be playing at that level, bagging 44 goals in 34 appearances as Blackburn stormed to promotion.
At just 24, Flint still has time to fulfill her potential that was so evident when she first broke through at City.
What Aged the Best?
When these two sides met on the final day of the 2014 season, managers Nick Cushing and Emma Hayes had not won a major trophy between them.
Fast-forward six years, and the pair have collected a combined 12 pieces of silverware.
Cushing and Hayes both assembled a selection of incredible sides; from City’s ‘invincibles’ of 2016, featuring Lucy Bronze and Izzy Christiansen at their brilliant best, to Chelsea’s fearsome front line of Karen Carney, Fran Kirby, Gemma Davison, Ji So-Yun and Eni Aluko.
The duo are two of the finest managers to grace the WSL dugout, consistently raising the bar for others to follow.
What Happened Next?
Liverpool were crowned WSL champions, and Manchester City won the Continental Cup final the following week.
Chelsea showed no signs of a heartache hangover, and bounced back emphatically the following season by storming to the WSL title and an FA Cup triumph at Wembley.