Ji So-Yun orchestrated the Blues’ quickfire comeback against the Hammers, setting up the first and then netting a spectacular second to send us top of the Barclays Women’s Super League table.
After leaders Manchester City had slipped to defeat at Arsenal earlier in the day, we knew victory against last season’s FA Cup runners-up would move us onto 13 points, one clear of our two challengers for the league title.
A dominant first-half performance should have yielded enough goals to have made that a probability, but we failed to take our chances and looked like being punished for our profligacy when substitute Adriana Leon made an instant impact for the home side when she was introduced in the 58th minute.
However, there is plenty of fight in this Blues side and we responded with two fantastic goals in the space of as many minutes to secure the victory. Sophie Ingle scored the first, finishing smartly after being teed up by Ji, but the South Korean stole the show with a sumptuous long-range effort which was worthy of winning any game. Drew Spence added another in stoppage time to put the final flourish on a fantastic team performance.
With only a Continental Tyres League Cup match to come before the international break, it means we will remain top of the standings by the time we take to the field for our first-ever meeting with Manchester United, which takes place at Kingsmeadow on Sunday 17 November.
This was the second of three straight matches on the road for Emma Hayes’s squad and she made six changes to the side which had convincingly seen off Crystal Palace the previous week. Carly Telford, Deanna Cooper, Jess Carter, Anita Asante, Maria Thorisdottir and Spence were the players to make way, as Ann-Katrin Berger, Magdalena Eriksson, Jonna Andersson, Ingle, Ji and Guro Reiten came back into the team.
That meant Berger lined up behind our regular back four this term of Maren Mjelde, Millie Bright, Eriksson and Andersson. Our midfield four of Erin Cuthbert, Ingle, Ji and Reiten offered plenty of support to Bethany England and Ramona Bachmann in attack. For the latter it was her first Barclays Women’s Super League start of the season, at the ground where she had proved so decisive last year with two fantastic goals in a 2-0 victory.
The Swiss playmaker was at the heart of a bright start to this game by the Blues, which saw us take the game to the home side in the opening 20 minutes and really should have yielded some form of reward on the scoreboard as we regularly tested the Hammers’ American-born keeper Courtney Brosnan.
The 23-year-old saved well to deny Cuthbert inside the opening two minutes and then she was in action again a little more than 90 seconds later, palming away a speculative long-range effort by Ji. She received a bit of help from her defence straight after, as the ball bounced free to England who clipped it back towards danger and Bachmann’s shot was brilliantly headed over the bar by Laura Vetterlein on the line.
We continued to pile on the pressure and Brosnan was on hand to make another decent stop to deny England, who was unmarked at the back post to meet Reiten’s deep corner. The Norwegian was then in the thick of it in front of goal and she looked certain to score from Bachmann’s set-up, only for a last-ditch challenge by Brooke Hendrix to keep out her goal-bound effort.
It was virtually all one-way traffic throughout the opening 20 minutes, yet somehow the scoreline remained goalless; England came within the width of the crossbar of changing that, as her shot looped up and bounced off the woodwork and out of play.
As the half wore on, West Ham began to come into the game more and they ended the opening 45 minutes the stronger of the two sides, as Berger was forced into again by Middag and then Alisha Lehmann blazed over at the back stick with the goal at her mercy. It was a huge let-off to end the half for the Blues.
After the break there was far more attacking intent shown by the home side and, as a result, the game became stretched as both teams took it in turns to attack. Bachmann had our best opportunity during this passage of play, but it was well stopped once again by Brosnan.
Then, with the game approaching the hour mark, Hammers boss Matt Beard brought on Adriana Leon – and within 10 seconds he was rewarded with a goal, as the Canadian international broke the deadlock with a tidy finish after Berger had made a spectacular save.
Hayes responded with an attacking change of her own, introducing Fran Kirby from the bench. Our No14 brought up an appearance milestone in the process, as it is her 100th game for the club, a figure only four other members of the current squad have amassed. She almost followed Leon in making an instant impact, as she met Ji’s cross with an acrobatic volley which Brosnan gathered with England waiting to pounce on any slip up.
Our reaction to going behind will have certainly pleased Hayes, as we pegged West Ham back in their own defensive third, but it was beginning to look like Lady Luck wasn’t smiling upon us. For the second time in the game we were denied by the woodwork and this time it was Bright who missed out on her first goal of the season as her thunderous shot from inside the box cannoned off the crossbar and out of play.
However, our persistence was about to pay off in a big way and the equaliser arrived through a quality finish by Ingle. Kirby had played her part in the build-up, switching the ball for Ji who patiently held on to lay a pass into the path of the onrushing Welsh midfielder. Prior to this season she’d never scored for the Blues; five appearances into this campaign she already has two to her name.
The tide had well and truly turned, and two minutes later we were in front thanks to an early contender for Goal of the Season. Ji started the move deep in her own half, finding Andersson deep in West Ham territory and then continuing her run up the pitch. There seemed to be little on when Reiten laid the ball off to her, with all of 25 yards between the South Korean and the goal, but she let fly with an unstoppable right-footed strike which flew past Brosnan and into the top corner. A spectacular effort, and in the blink of an eye we had turned the game around.
As we headed into the final 10 minutes there was an opportunity for Kirby to mark her milestone appearance in trademark fashion with a goal, but her finish from England’s pull-back had a bit too much on it and drifted over the top. Our third of the afternoon finally arrived when Spence was found by Kirby to slot past Brosnan with virtually the last kick of the game, prompting chants of ‘We’re top of the league’ from the travelling supporters.
It’s a return to Continental Tyres League Cup action for Hayes and her charges next weekend, as we head to East Sussex for our first visit to the Dripping Pan and a meeting with Lewes. That match takes place at 2pm on Saturday. We’re back at Kingsmeadow on Sunday 17 November to host Manchester United for the first time. Get your tickets here.
West Ham United Brosnan, Hendrix (Longhurst 75), Flaherty, Vetterlein, Baunach, Middag, Lehmann, Dali, Cho, Galabadaarachchi (Leon 58), ThomasUnused subs Moorhouse, Redisch Kvamme, LonghurstScorer Leon 58
Chelsea (4-4-2) Berger; Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson (c), Andersson; Cuthbert (Kirby 62), Ingle, Ji (Carter 90), Reiten; Bachmann (Spence 83), EnglandUnused subs Telford, Cooper, FlemingScorers Ingle 70, Ji 72, Spence 90+5Booked Spence 90+2
Referee Robert Whitton