West Ham showed their tenacity in resisting a Chelsea thrashing — unlike their last meeting in the Continental Cup — but still the Blues ground out a solid result, writes Ali Rampling.
Discipline was the name of the game for Emma Hayes’ side as Chelsea retained their two-point lead at top of the Women’s Super League with a 2-0 victory over West Ham United.
Headed goals either side of half time from Sam Kerr and Beth England were enough to see off the Hammers, who remain winless in the WSL under Olli Harder, and who could find themselves bottom of the table come Monday evening should Bristol City beat Reading.
“Games like this used to be quite a challenge for us in the past and that’s where I think we’ve grown,” Hayes said. “We can come to places like this, do what’s necessary. It’s not about sometimes playing the type of football that we want to, it’s about doing the right things at the right time.”
The fixture was West Ham’s first competitive outing for three-and-a-half weeks, while Chelsea were coming off the back of Wednesday evening’s remarkable 10-player victory over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.
Beth England was sacrificed during the early stages of the Blues’ midweek win following Sophie Ingle’s sending off, but the 26-year-old was back in the side and straight into the thick of the action at the Chigwell Construction Stadium.
England found the head of strike partner Sam Kerr with a cross from the right flank on the seven-minute mark, and the Australian forward powered home from close range for her twelfth WSL goal of the season.
Having hit 17 goals in their previous three meetings in all competitions against the Hammers, the early goal could have set the tone for another comprehensive victory for Chelsea. But although the Blues enjoyed the majority of possession, West Ham remained robust and disciplined, frustrating Hayes’ side.
“I thought overall the performance today was a vast improvement on the last time we played Chelsea in the Conti Cup, so from that side it’s a pleasing aspect,” said Harder.
The Hammers had been 4-0 down inside 30 minutes in said Continental Cup defeat, but this time they kept Chelsea’s lively front three at bay and restricted the Blues to just the one goal in the first half. However, the second period was less than two minutes old when the visitors doubled their advantage, the roles reversed this time as Kerr turned provider for England to head past Brosnan.
Niamh Charles’ vision was key to the goal as she fed Kerr with a quickly taken throw-in. The 21-year-old — who has spent much of her short career as a winger — was brought into the starting XI at right back, having impressed in the role from the bench against Atletico in midweek.
“She was deserving to be in the starting lineup in what I think will be her position going forward,” Hayes added. “I think she’s going to be a fullback at the top level, and I think she’ll compete at national team level in that position.”
The Hammers applied the pressure as the clock ticked down, with Martha Thomas kept out by a block from the impressive Millie Bright and Kenza Dahli sending a free kick narrowly over. However, debutant Zecira Musovic remained untested in the Chelsea goal.
“I think she’s got presence,” Hayes said of Musovic’s maiden Chelsea appearance following her January arrival from Rosengård. “Players around her trust her. Her kicking distances and her decision-making today were excellent. Always a tricky game to come in, against a side who are quite direct in their play, and I thought she handled everything superbly.”
The loss leaves West Ham in the thick of a relegation battle, but Harder remains confident that his side have enough about them to avoid the drop.
“I’m confident in the group of players that we have that we can get the job done this season,” the Hammers boss said. “It’s important for us to not make it a big, grey cloud that hangs over our heads. We do need to be aware that we’re in this position, and the upcoming performances and results get us a little further away from that grey cloud.”
West Ham: Courtney Brosnan, Cecilie Redisch, Gilly Flaherty, Grace Fisk, Laura Vetterlein (Hawa Cissoko, 90), Kate Longhurst, Dagný Brynjarsdóttir, Kateřina Svitková (Maz Pacheco, 77), Emily van Egmond, Kenza Dahli, Martha Thomas
Unused subs: Emily Ramsey, Nor Mustafa, Maisy Barker
Chelsea: Zecira Musovic, Niamh Charles (Jess Carter, 81), Maren Mjelde, Millie Bright, Jonna Andersson, Sophie Ingle, Ji So-Yun (Drew Spence, 81), Guro Reiten, Pernille Harder (Jessie Fleming, 67), Sam Kerr (Fran Kirby, 67), Bethany England
Unused subs: Ann Katrin Berger, Hannah Blundell, Jess Carter, Melanie Leupolz, Drew Spence, Jorja Fox, Emily Orman
Follow Ali on Twitter @AliRampling