Two goals from Pernille Harder and a late strike from Niamh Charles secured Chelsea a 3-1 win in a tight contest with Everton.
There were touching scenes as the teams warmed up, with Chelsea players wearing shirts bearing the words “get well soon Emma” across the back in support of their absent manager, who is recovering from an emergency hysterectomy following her ongoing battle with endometriosis. Later, the men’s team also wore the message before their Premier League match against Aston Villa.
In Hayes’s place for the trip to Everton was her assistant Denise Reddy, who worked with Hayes at Chicago Red Stars before joining her at Chelsea in 2020 – although the general manager, Paul Green, had said Hayes would be glued to the TV and connected to the bench should she be feeling up to it.
Everton last beat Chelsea in the league in October 2013, with Chelsea having won seven and drawn one of the encounters since, scoring 19 and conceding none, but the Merseyside team are transformed this season under their Danish manager, Brian Sørensen, who left Fortuna Hjørring to join the Toffees.
Back-to-back wins, beating Liverpool 3-0 in the Merseyside derby and Leicester 1-0, followed an opening-day defeat against West Ham after a string of pre-season losses as the team got to grips with the new manager’s plan.
At Walton Hall Park, a sold-out with 1,668 fans, a club-record crowd at the ground, against the champions, the home team started brightly. The wing-back Lucy Graham, the Manchester City loanee Jess Park and Sweden’s Hanna Bennison were particularly effective.
Chelsea meanwhile threatened consistently down the left-hand side and in the 38th minute they made the breakthrough down that flank, with Guro Reiten’s cross headed powerfully past the goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan by Harder.
Unperturbed, in the second half the Everton players were rewarded for their labours. Megan Finnigan’s free-kick found Gabby George, the wing-back forced a save from Ann-Katrin Berger, but the ball hit the centre-back Kadeisha Buchanan and went in.
It took just five minutes for Chelsea to regain their lead, with Brosnan penalised for bringing down Reiten and Harder converting from the spot. Substitute Charles scored a third in added time, dancing clear of three Everton defenders before firing coolly past Brosnan.