A Sam Kerr hat-trick helped the Blues set a new Barclays Women’s Super League record for the most consecutive home wins on an afternoon when fans returned to Kingsmeadow.
This was the first time since February that fans were allowed into our KT1 home, which underwent a ‘Chelsea’ makeover over the summer after previous tenants AFC Wimbledon moved out, and those in attendance were treated to a fiercely contested London derby that certainly wasn’t short on entertainment.
After an even opening to the contest, the Blues went in front through Kerr’s sliding finish, after the returning Fran Kirby had expertly picked her out inside a crowded penalty box.
Despite dominating the rest of the first half, we were unable to find a second goal and West Ham made us pay for that just two minutes in the second half, as Rachel Daly tapped in at the back post to draw them level.
It proved to be a short-lived reprieve for the Hammers, though, as Kerr’s second of the afternoon restored our lead. This time Pernille Harder was the creator, firing in a low cross that the keeper could only palm into the path of the Australian.
Her third of the afternoon arrived 15 minutes later, and once again it was the simplest of tasks to turn the ball home from close range, following another brilliant pass from Kirby that was simply begging to be scored.
Although West Ham are in ninth, with only four points to their name and an interim manager at the helm, they battled gamely throughout and a late own goal meant it was a nervy final few minutes for the Blues. We held out for an excellent three points for Emma Hayes and her side as we look to overhaul Manchester United at the top of the standings.
It also meant another piece of history was written, as we set a new WSL record of 12 consecutive home victories. The last time we failed to win at Kingsmeadow in the league was back in March 2019, when West Ham held us to a 1-1 draw.
Now attention will turn to our Champions League return in midweek, as we continue a busy run that sees us play five times in the space of a fortnight, having gone three weeks without a game prior to today.
The club showed our support for Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign at this afternoon’s match, which included a special edition matchday programme cover, while there was a pre-match presentation to Millie Bright, marking the defender’s 150 appearances for the Blues.
However, our No4 would have to wait to add to her tally, as she was among the substitutes, one of three changes made by Hayes to the team that drew with Arsenal last time out. Sophie Ingle and Erin Cuthbert also dropped out of the starting XI, with Maria Thorisdottir, a fit again Kirby and Kerr coming in to an ultra-attacking line-up.
Ann-Katrin Berger, fresh from winning her first cap for Germany during the recent break, was between the sticks behind a back four of Thorisdottir, Maren Mjelde, Magda Eriksson and Jonna Andersson. Melanie Leupolz was the least attacking of our midfielders, with Ji So-Yun and Harder nominally joining her in the middle of the park and Kirby, Kerr and Bethany England leading the line. What a treat for those returning supporters.
Despite their struggles so far this term, the Hammers played their part in an entertaining opening to the contest, even threatening to spoil the party with a couple of half chances that were snatched at, when a little composure was called for. The same could certainly not be said at the other end, as the Blues went in front with our first shot on target.
Receiving the ball 30 yards from goal, Harder was given far too much time and space to pick out the run of Kirby and her low cross was into the perfect area for the sliding Kerr to meet from inside the six-yard box. The roar inside Kingsmeadow to greet the moment showed just how much it meant to everyone.
The feel-good factor very nearly proved to be short-lived, however, as the old football adage of being at your most vulnerable after you’ve just scored almost rang true. Daly managed to break free from the Blues defence on the halfway line and she had the pace to leave them behind, going one-v-one with Berger. The German keeper stayed on her feet for as long as possible, calling Daly’s bluff and holding out long enough to make an excellent save.
The response from Hayes’s side was almost immediate, as we came close to making 2-0 with an attacking move that was almost a carbon copy of the first. Harder was involved in the build-up, releasing Kirby down the right once again, only this time she went high with her cross and Kerr’s header floated over the crossbar.
The Blues continued to press hard for a second as the first half wound down, but the closest we came to breaching West Ham’s dogged rearguard – which was expertly marshalled by our former centre-half Gilly Flaherty – was a long-range strike by Leupolz that Mackenzie Arnold turned behind with a diving save.
Having not extended our advantage while we were on top, we were made to pay by West Ham just two minutes into the second half. Adriana Leon embarked on a solo run that took her deep into the Chelsea area and her low cross somehow evaded three defenders and Berger, leaving Daly with the simplest of tasks to tap in at the far post.
The two sides weren’t level for long, though, as the Blues restored our advantage eight minutes later. Harder was the creator, firing in a cross that the keeper found too hot to handle, and there was Kerr in the right place at the right time to side-foot home.
Bright came on for Thorisdottir as Hayes made her first substitution of the game before the hour mark, restoring the back four that had started five of our previous six WSL matches this term. Two more changes followed soon after, as England and Ji made way for Guro Reiten and Ingle.
The game was done and dusted from virtually our next attack after the changes, and once again the damage was done down our right-hand side and the finishing touch applied by Kerr. Our No20 could have shot earlier in the move, but instead opted to lay the ball off for Kirby, who took a touch and then laid the ball on a plate for perhaps the easiest hat-trick Kerr will ever score.
Unfortunately, as she put the ball in the back of the net for her team-leading sixth WSL goal of the season, Kerr suffered an awkward hip-on-hip collision with a West Ham defender, which meant the goal was her final action of what had been an otherwise highly satisfactory afternoon in KT1.
Our lead could have been extended further in the final 20 minutes, as we continued to dominate the Hammers and both Kirby and Cuthbert came close to finding our fourth. That could have led to a nervy conclusion to the game, however, as Eriksson misread a cross and diverted it past Berger with her shoulder.
Six minutes of stoppage time was not what anyone of a Blues persuasion wanted, but the game management shown by Hayes’ players meant we comfortably saw it out without any cause for concern. Three points in the bag and a very happy returning crowd at Kingsmeadow.
The Blues are next in action on Wednesday afternoon, when we travel to Portugal to face Benfica for the first leg of our Champions League round of 32 tie. The next domestic outing comes on Sunday, when we make the short trip south to face Brighton.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Berger; Mjelde, Thorisdottir (Bright 59), Eriksson (c), Andersson; Ji (Ingle 67), Leupolz, Harder; Kirby, England (Reiten 67), Kerr (Cuthbert 71)Unused subs Telford, Carter, J Fleming, CharlesScorer Kerr 15, 55, 68
West Ham (4-3-3) Arnold; Redisch, Flaherty (c), Fisk, Vetterlin; Cho, Van Egmond, Longhurst (Grant 60); Daly, Thomas (Lehmann 82), Leon (Svitkova 71)Unused subs Brosnan, Joel, Cissoko, Dali, Kiszkis, NorScorer Daly 47, Eriksson own goal 88Booked Daly 37
Referee Rebecca Welch