Sam Kerr rescued a late point for leaders Chelsea against Arsenal in a tense game between the Women’s Super League top two at Emirates Stadium as london derby ended in 1-1 draw.
Arsenal captain Kim Little appeared to have scored the decisive penalty after Chelsea wing-back Niamh Charles fouled Caitlin Foord.
But Kerr headed an equalizer to ensure Chelsea remain unbeaten since the opening day of the season.
They are three points clear of Arsenal, who have a game in hand.
This was Arsenal’s first WSL game since Vivianne Miedema was ruled out for 2022-23 with knee ligament damage, while Beth Mead suffered her season-ending ACL injury the last time the Gunners played at the Emirates.
For long periods Arsenal looked like they missed the star pairing, creating plenty of chances with no cutting edge – until Charles clumsily felled Foord just inside the penalty area.
The foul began outside the area, but the spot-kick was given by referee Emily Heaslip as the final contact was inside.
“The ref gave it for tangling legs in the box, which is unavoidable,” Hayes said. “VAR needs to be in the game to confirm or deny that.”
Little has had injury woes of her own this campaign, but the midfielder was nerveless in sending Zecira Musovic the wrong way with her spot-kick.
Arsenal came close to a second when Steph Catley’s attempted cross almost caught out Musovic, who scrambled to tip the ball on to the bar.
Also back for Arsenal following injury is Leah Williamson, the England centre-back leading the home defence in quelling the Chelsea attack – until the 89th minute.
Kerr escaped her marker and powered a header home from six yards, delivering the result that substitute Jelena Cankovic’s perfect delivery deserved.
It was the 32nd goal Chelsea have scored in 11 WSL games, and few have been as wildly celebrated by the bench, Hayes leaping to her feet and punching the air.
She said of Kerr: “No-one in the world can score the number of goals she has. The standout attribute is that she doesn’t lose focus at any point.
“She knows it takes one chance, and the ball from Jelena was world-class. So was the header.”
The crowd of 46,811 was the second biggest in WSL history.
Chelsea were below par – their first shot on target came in the 76th minute through centre-back Magda Eriksson – but winning when not at their best is often a mark of champions.
Manager Emma Hayes said: “Of course I’m going to be happy with a point. It was a cagey game. My team showed tremendous character, to get a point when not at our best.
“The quality of chances was woeful – our attacking players didn’t create a lot. But to stay switched on is such an attribute.”
Ultimately, the red majority of the crowd – just shy of the WSL record 47,367 who attended Arsenal’s 4-0 win over Tottenham in September – were sent home wondering what might have been.
“You have to keep two thoughts – be happy with the performance but be disappointed in the result,” Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall said.
“It is more important to get the performance right in the long term. We need to draw strength from this.”