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 skilful strike paved the way for the Blues’ 3-0 win against Reading with the Royals relegated to the Championship.
Chelsea’s sixth title win came in 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 picking 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.
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.
“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 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.
“If we want to be a team who competes and bounces back in the championship that’s the way the championship is going now.
“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.”