Chelsea Women made it two wins in four days to go joint top of the Women's Super League table but had to fight back from conceding early on to beat West Ham United 3-1 at Kingsmeadow.
It was far from the start Chelsea had hoped for, as Dagny Brynjarsdottir headed West Ham into the lead in just the third minute, but the Blues were on top throughout and pushed relentlessly to get level and then pull away into the lead after half-time.
The initial frustration was only added to when Sam Kerr was twice denied by the woodwork, but we were level before the break when Fran Kirby swivelled and turned Guro Reiten's cross into the back of the net.
After half-time there was only one team in it and a pair of corners secured the result our dominance undoubtedly deserved. First it was Kerr who was able finish from close range after West Ham failed to clear a corner and the ball ricocheted around the box, and then Millie Bright arrived first at the front post to head in Katerina Svitkova's delivery.
It could have been an even bigger winning margin, with Lauren James having a penalty saved, but as it is the Blues emerged as 3-1 winners to go into the international break on the back of two consecutive victories.
Emma Hayes made two changes to her starting line-up from Sunday’s 2-0 win over Manchester City, with two summer signings Eve Perisset and Katerina Svitkova making Chelsea debuts.
Ann-Katrin Berger continued as goalkeeper, but Perisset came into the defence in front of her to make her first start for the Blues, alongside Millie Bright, Kadeisha Buchanan and captain Magdalena Eriksson, who received a presentation pitchside before the match to mark her 150th game for the club.
The other debutant was Katerina Svitkova, getting her first competitive action in a Chelsea shirt on the right side of midfield, with Jessie Fleming and Erin Cuthbert in the middle and Guro Reiten on the left. It was an unchanged front two of Sam Kerr supported by Fran Kirby.
Before kick-off Chelsea and Kingsmeadow paid tribute to Dave McKnight, a member of the stadium's ground staff who sadly passed away after being taken ill before Sunday's fixture, with a minute's silence and the Blues players were also wearing black armbands in his memory.
Chelsea went on the attack straight from the start, with Reiten pressuring the West Ham goalkeeper into a wayward kick and from the resulting throw-in Kirby threaded the ball through for Reiten, but her low cross towards Kerr was blocked.
However, it was the visitors who found the opening goal with their first attack, after just two minutes. Buchanan had come out on top in a tussle in the box, but conceded a corner in the process. When the set-piece was looped in to the back post, Hammers striker Dagny Brynjarsdottir rose highest and headed back across goal into the top corner.
Chelsea responded by going back on the attack immediately, as Kerr and Kirby both had shots blocked in the box in quick succession, although the former was then flagged offside.
We continued to get closer to a quick equaliser, though. A Chelsea corner from the left was flicked on low by Kirby before Bright improvised brilliantly to redirect the ball up and towards goal with the outside of her boot, but goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold just managed to claw it out from under the crossbar.
Kerr frustrated by the woodwork
Arnold was helpless at full stretch soon afterwards, when Kerr got her first real opportunity to run at the West Ham defence in space. The Australian cut inside from the left, aiming at the gap between the two centre-backs, leaving one sprawled across the turf before firing a powerful effort towards goal from just outside the area, only to see her effort strike the right-hand post and go behind.
Kerr continued to pose Chelsea’s biggest threat as we approached the midway point in the first half, but dragged a right-footed effort wide after cleverly waiting to let Cuthbert’s run create space for the shot.
With just under 15 minutes to go until the break, the Blues put West Ham under their most prolonged spell of pressure yet, with a succession of crosses into the box coming close to finding a Chelsea player in space before Reiten got free in the left-hand channel, but fired narrowly wide. We had to be aware of the counter, though, as shown when Cuthbert covered brilliantly to cut out a dangerous ball and prevent Viviane Asseyi getting in behind our defence.
A frustrating first half for Kerr and Chelsea continued when our striker hit the other post with Arnold seemingly beaten for a second time. It was another effort from just outside the box, this time towards the near bottom corner, only to see it bounce off the post for a goal-kick.
Level by the break
However, when the equaliser did arrive it was via the boot of another Chelsea forward, Kirby. Plenty of credit also goes to Reiten, who did brilliantly to keep a West Ham clearance in play and chip a pass towards the penalty spot, where Fran controlled and spun before shooting left-footed, with her curling effort evading the Hammers defender on the line.
The early stages of the second half followed a similar pattern to the majority of the first, with Chelsea enjoying nearly all of the possession and threatening Arnold’s goal on a couple of occasions. The closest the Blues came to taking the lead during that spell was via a free-kick after Hawa Cissoko had received the game’s first yellow card for hacking down Reiten as the Norwegian burst forward into space with a brilliant piece of skill and quick one-two with Kirby.
Reiten picked herself up and delivered a dangerous cross from the free-kick herself, which Eriksson met strongly at the back post but headed just wide of the top corner. Kerr went a whisker away with a far-post header of her own, from Cuthbert’s cross, and then was close to catching out the West Ham goalkeeper on an underhit backpass as we continued to pin the visitors inside their own box.
Dominance pays off
It wasn't long before the Blues were ahead, though, as our opponents finally cracked under the relentless pressure we were exerting. A short corner routine caused chaos in West Ham's defence as the ball ricocheted around the box before breaking kindly off Eriksson and falling for Kerr to slot in from close range. The goal was no less than she deserved after hitting both posts in the first half.
Before West Ham had time to regroup, the Blues extended our lead to two goals from another corner. This time it was Svitkova's delivery, which was met at the near post by Bright as the defender glanced a header across the goal and into the back of the net.
Chelsea were far from satisfied with our three goals, continuing to push forward looking for more and controlling the game well inside West Ham's half. It briefly looked like substitute Lauren James would provide the icing on the cake as she strode down the middle of the pitch before unleashing a powerful rising drive, but it fizzed just over the crossbar.
James had an even better chance to get her name on the scoresheet with around 10 minutes remaining, from the penalty spot. The Blues No10 surged into the box and a West Ham defender stumbled and dragged her to the ground as she fell, the referee having no hesitation in pointing to the spot. The Blues No10 took the penalty herself, going low to the right, but the goalkeeper guessed correctly and got down to make the save.
The Chelsea players were starting to enjoy themselves now, though, with Niamh Charles forcing a save at the near post from a fierce first-time shot at the end of a fine, flowing team move.
In the end the Blues had to settle for just the three goals, but Hayes will no doubt be pleased with her team's evening as they take a second consecutive victory after needing to keep their composure and fight back from a goal down.
Domestic football takes a pause for the next two weeks due to the international break, meaning Chelsea’s next match will be away at Everton in the Women’s Super League on Sunday 16 October, with kick-off at 1pm.
Chelsea (4-4-1-1): Berger; Perisset (Charles 64), Bright, Buchanan, Eriksson (c); Svitkova (James 64), Cuthbert, Fleming, Reiten (Rytting Kaneryd 72); Kirby (England 64); Kerr (Cankovic 72)
Unused subs: Musovic, Ingle, Carter, Nouwen
Scorers: Kirby 40, Kerr 58, Bright 62
West Ham United (3-4-1-2): Arnold; Parker, Cissoko, Fisk; Shimizu, Longhurst, Stringer (Ziu 70), Smith (Kyvag 70); Brynjarsdottir; Evans (Flannery 86), Asseyi (Walker 83)
Unused subs: Hillyerd, Atkinson, Filis, Houssein
Scorer: Brynjarsdottir 3
Booked: Cissoko 49, Ziu 74, Parker 76