Chelsea FC Women cruised into the semi-final of the Continental Tyres League Cup this evening as Emma Hayes’ side put four past West Ham United.
Hayes’ side were quick out of the blocks on a cold night at the Chigwell Construction Stadium, eager to play having not tasted competitive football since 16 December.
Fran Kirby immediately created a chance for the Blues as she threaded a ball towards the path of an onrunning Harder, however the ball was just too powerful and fizzed out for a goal-kick.
West Ham had a half-chance of their own just four minutes in when Jess Carter was caught in possession by Katerina Svitkova who attempted to play a ball over the top to Dagny Brynjarsdottir, but it ran out for a goal-kick.
Neither side dominated play in the opening stages of the game. Jessie Fleming played a neat ball into the path of Harder who was bursting down the left-hand side, however the Dane was adjudged to have been offside before she could whip the ball into the box where Kirby was ready to strike.
Niamh Charles made her presence known throughout the first half. The 22-year-old did well to stifle West Ham attacks and pinch the ball in good areas to create attacking opportunities for the Blues. Having won the ball in a dangerous area, Charles linked well with Harder who charged at the West Ham defence, however she could only strike high of Leat’s goal.
The Irons were gifted a number of set-pieces in the first half, but the Blues defence remained strong aerially.
The Blues got the breakthrough 25 minutes in after a well-worked counter-attack. Fleming played the perfect ball into the path of Kirby who was one-on-one with Leat and could have gone for goal herself. However, our no.14 unselfishly squared the ball to Harder in the box who tapped home to give the Blues a deserved lead.
The Kirby-Harder link-up play continued throughout the game, with the attacking pair proving too much for the Irons.
Just moments after the first goal, Harder again found herself in space down the left-hand side, the Danish international drilled the ball across goal with Kirby skilfully backheeling the ball at goal, skimming the side-netting.
Ann-Katrin Berger was called into action for the first real time late on in the first half. The 31-year-old made a world-class save after a looping cross into the box was flicked on to Brynjarsdottir to tap in, however Berger got down low and fast to deny the Irons from equalising.
However the home side did get their equaliser 11 minutes before the end of the first half. The Blues lost possession in their own half, Claudia Walker sprinted down the left-hand side and squared to Svitkova, whose effort took a deflection off Millie Bright before curling past Berger.
We almost regained our lead just minutes later when Harder put another inch-perfect ball into the box, Fleming just couldn’t stretch enough to get the vital touch and the ball bounced off the post before West Ham hacked it clear.
Hayes’ side were raring to go in the second half and deservedly went ahead again through Cuthbert. Jonna Andersson looped in the perfect cross which found Cuthbert unmarked in the area, allowing the Scotland international to head home.
Sophie Ingle was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet this evening after a couple of powerful strikes from the edge of the box were somehow kept out.
It was goals galore as Harder scored another two goals in quick succession to seal her first hat-trick of 2022. Kirby cut inside in the West Ham area and looked to curl one in, however Leat parried it into the path of Harder who slotted home.
The Danish international completed her hat-trick on 65 minutes when she headed in an inch-perfect ball to round off an excellent performance from the Blues.
West Ham got a consolation goal shortly before full-time, substitute Halle Houssein scored on her debut when she was alone in the box to tap home a drilled cross.
It’s a quick turnaround for Hayes’ side who are back to Women’s Super League action on Sunday when we travel to Brighton & Hove Albion, 12:30pm UK time.
West Ham United (3-4-2-1): Leat, Wyne (Houssein 81), Stringer, Flaherty, Walker, Svitkova, Longhurst (Joel 20), Parker, Filis, Fisk, Brynjarsdottir (Snerle 70)
Unused subs: Moore, Evans,
Scorers Svitkover 34, Houssein 83
Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Berger, Nouwen (Reiten 66), Bright, Ingle, Carter, Kirby (England 72), Fleming (Spence 72), Charles, Cuthbert, Harder, Andersson (Abdullina 77)
Unused subs: Musovic, Telford
Scorers Harder 25, 60, 65, Cuthbert 57