Chelsea keep up with the pack after a convincing win at Kingsmeadow puts them three points behind Manchester United with a game in-hand.
The stadium was once again buzzing with the atmosphere of lucky Blues fans. The limited match day tickets welcomed supporters back after a long period of behind-closed-doors fixtures.
Both teams were decked out in their rainbow laces and armbands in allegiance with Stonewall’s campaign for diversity and equality in football.
Several early chances for Chelsea amped up the pressure, but Mackenzie Arnold managed to keep them at bay with some impressive saves.
Nevertheless, the Blues were soon 1-0 up. Pernille Harder and Fran Kirby took advantage of a sudden dispersal of claret shirts and linked up to send in a low ball for Sam Kerr to net with a sliding finish.
With Millie Bright on the bench after a minor injury, Maren Mjelde joined Magda Eriksson at centre-back. The duo held down the defence whilst blue shirts swarmed the attacking half.
The link-up between Eriksson and Kirby was particularly impressive. The Chelsea skipper had the brilliant vision to belt some huge passes up the field to find Kirby on the opposite wing.
However, a mistake by Eriksson led to an interception by Rachel Daly, suddenly faced with an open goal. Miraculously, Ann-Katrin Berger managed to block what seemed like a certain equaliser.
Hard-fought Win at Kingsmeadow
By the end of the first half, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the Blues had recreated their 8-0 win from last season’s clash with West Ham. However, the deeply positioned Irons were on the defensive, denying a further goal deficit.
With 45 minutes still to play, West Ham came back fighting. They bagged their equaliser within just two minutes of the whistle. A driven Adrianna Leon smartly assisted an unmarked Daly at close-range.
Despite the response, Chelsea were able to get themselves ahead once again. Harder struck a dynamic ball which was deflected by Arnold right into the path of Kerr for her second tap-in goal.
After an hour, Hayes made some changes on the offensive to hopefully further the Blues’ lead. Sophie Ingle and Guro Reiten came on and within seconds the latter had her sights on goal.
A fumbling loss of possession by the Irons facilitated yet another successful link-up between Kirby and Kerr. The Australia international netted her third of the day, but sustained a hip injury which saw her sit out the remainder of the match. Nevertheless her work was done, and Chelsea had established a comfortable lead.
With 26 shots to West Ham’s nine, Chelsea dominated in terms of attack, but the Hammers pushed until the end. They found their second through an unfortunate Eriksson own goal, who couldn’t deal with an Alisha Lehmann cross.
Climbing the Ladder
Hayes’ side dug deep to maintain their lead with six minutes of injury time to play. West Ham continued to defend, with Arnold making another major save when faced with a clinical free kick by Reiten.
The London rivals battled hard, but it was the Blues who held onto their Kingsmeadow lead until the final whistle.
With the squad gelling nicely, Chelsea are in a fighting position to take on their first Champions League match against Benfica next week.