FA Women’s Premier League: Crystal Palace 6-1 West Ham
Palace Ladies kicked off their 2017 fixtures in the same manner in which they ended 2016.
The FA Women’s Premier League resumed with the visit of West Ham United to Hayes Lane, a fixture that had seen Palace on the right side of all eight goals during both cup and league matches in East London earlier this season.
The Eagles squad was in good shape, albeit with the absence of Fran Ali and Megan Goss. They were also buoyed by the news that Freya Holdaway and Alex Elson were in the process of making their comeback from long injury lay offs in the reserve team fixture against Charlton Athletic.
Speaking before the match, manager Dean Davenport commented on the need for momentum;
‘We have been receiving a lot of positive comments about the first half of our season since being promoted. To be sitting comfortably in the top half of the league, off the back of some very good performances, is a credit to the girls. However, we have all spoken of the need to sustain this and ensure that we keep the same mentality and focus during what is likely to be a tougher, second half of the campaign. Today is about getting what we need from a fragmented start to 2017, against a team that is in transition and will be out to avenge the earlier defeats.’
In front of nearly 200 at Bromley, Davenport’s team had been listening and hit the ground running. With an immediate high tempo and pressing game, Palace were one up inside the first couple of minutes. A free kick was swung in from the right by Pam McRoberts and initially sent goal bound by December player of the month, Roschelle Shakes. This was initially part cleared off the line, but only into the path of the in form Gemma Bryan who slotted home from a tight angle.
The visitors were clearly rocked by the goal and took some time to establish a rhythm, although their dedication to getting the ball down and a hard working team game was soon evident.
It was Palace who continued to create the majority of the chances with Bryan and Shakes in imperious form, working seamlessly as a front two with an almost telepathic understanding of each other, blending pace, finesse and strength in equal measures. It was the turn of Shakes to take the limelight around the halfway point of the first half when she confidently finished past the mobile and athletic Hammers goalkeeper to put Palace two up.
Despite the setback, West Ham continued to stick to their plan and at times created a threat with pace in behind the Eagles back line. However, the Palace back three of Sarah Jones, Rosie Paye and McRoberts worked well as a unit, supported by wingers Tia Foreman and Alma Donohoe when needed.
On a heavy and at times testing pitch, much of the hard graft for Palace was in the central areas, with Lilli Maple, Ellie Bailes and Ciara Sherwood working tirelessly to win and retain possession and bring other players into the match. It was Sherwood who effectively put the game safe in the 29th minute when she expertly created the space needed, and a scored a sublime goal past the stranded Hammers keeper.
The third was the final goal before the break, an interval that saw Davenport insist on maintaining levels of focus and effort.
Palace had clearly listened and attacked the second half as they had the first. It was Bryan who bagged her second, for Palace’s fourth ten minutes into the half with another superb piece of approach play and finish. Again, to their credit, West Ham refused to give in and in the 65th minute pulled a goal back through a perfect long range lob by Burr that left Channel Yardley in the Palace goal with no chance.
The hosts had by now brought on Mary Robinson for Rosie Paye, moving Foreman back and allowing Robinson to use her pace and strength down the right. The Eagles also replaced the industrious Maple with youngster Alexis Hobbs in the 70th minute.
Palace, clearly frustrated by the lack of a clean sheet reacted well and within six minutes had scored their fifth, a hat-trick for Bryan, the second three goal in haul in as many games for the number ten.
The only sour note of the afternoon was the sight of the influential Ciara Sherwood limping off with an ankle injury in the 79th minute. Ironically, it was a challenge involving the same player as it had been in the previous match against West Ham that subsequently saw the Northern Ireland international miss nearly two months.
With the two available outfield subs used, Palace saw out the remainder of the match with ten players. This was a period that saw a stunning save by Yardley, and a goal that capped a superb performance by Roschelle Shakes, sealing a hugely impressive 6-1 win for Palace, who now sit fifth in the league with 19 points from 11 games.
Speaking after the match, Palace boss Davenport was clearly happy with the outcome;
“The team did very well today, on a heavy pitch, against a team that is out to prove their status in the league. I thought we executed the game plan well and put the chances away when we had them. There are a few areas that we still need to work on following the Christmas break, but as a result of the way the fixtures have fallen, we had a couple of weeks without a first team game to iron these creases out.
We are doing okay. We have good quality players coming back from long term lay offs and we continue to bring players through the ranks. We will have the issues around injuries and will have to see what the prognosis is for Ciara, and also, we will have to deal with the fact that the Super League season starts soon and we may be the target of transfer interest. Having said that, what we are doing here at Palace is attracting that level of player and building towards the real ambition of being at that level soon. Whilst we need to remain realistic, we are keen to put Palace where we know it deserves to be.”
You can view match highlights and interviews are on the Palace Ladies TV channel on YouTube and through the club website and twitter feed.