Chelsea continued their unbeaten start to the season with a win over West Ham on Saturday evening in south-west London. Goals from Sam Kerr and Erin Cuthbert gave the hosts victory in a game they dominated despite a spirited fight from Rehanne Skinner’s side.
Home comforts greeted Chelsea as they played to a packed Kingsmeadow for the first time this season. It is a stadium the reigning Women’s Super League champions have made a fortress during Emma Hayes’s tenure, having won 26 of their past 27 matches here.
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There was a big boost for the home fans before kick-off with attacking duo Fran Kirby and Kerr included in the lineup. The last time Kirby started for Chelsea was against the same opponents in February when she was forced off with a knee injury. Kerr, meanwhile, has struggled with a calf injury since the World Cup, with Hayes asking for patience with her striker.
Their record against West Ham will have been another confidence-builder for Chelsea – having won nine of the 10 WSL matches they have played – but West Ham are a rejuvenated prospect. Even at this early stage of the season, they have strived to be an attacking, possession-based team and arrived looking for a third victory in a row, after wins over Brighton and Charlton in the WSL and League Cup respectively. Emma Harries was rewarded for her goal in midweek with her first start of the season to bolster West Ham’s forward line.
Yet the dynamism of a Chelsea attack comprising Kerr, Kirby and Lauren James was immediately clear. Kerr’s prowess in the air and the dazzling feet of the two accompanying attackers threatened as the hosts dominated possession. Kirby set Melanie Leupolz through for an early shot while James picked out Kerr with three defenders around her only for the Australian to head wide of the mark, a bit of rustiness perhaps on show. Kerr did have the ball in the back of the net, but it was ruled out for offside.
Sam Kerr heads in Chelsea’s opening goal against West Ham. Photograph: John Sibley/Action Images/Reuters
The visitors, however, were unafraid to take the match to Chelsea and threatened on the counterattack on multiple occasions. Anouk Denton flashed a low ball across the face of goal that Harries could not quite reach before Harries set up Lisa Evans, but the subsequent shot lacked power.
Chelsea still looked the most likely to score and they found a breakthrough as the half drew to a close. The impressive Niamh Charles worked space to deliver down the left as Kerr rose at the back post to send a header home to open her account for the season.
Experience remains the main dividing factor between these two. It brings a calmness to play that Chelsea have in abundance but West Ham are still developing. They piled on the pressure after the break but lacked composure in their finishing. Riko Ueki had two chances fall by the wayside while Kirsty Smith’s acrobatic effort was tipped over the bar by Zecira Musovic.
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It was enough to encourage Hayes to make her first changes. Kirby made way for Sjoeke Nüsken after 56 minutes and a slight tweak in formation followed for the pendulum to swing back in Chelsea’s favour. With West Ham penned back deep in their half, James dragged a low shot wide while Leupolz had an effort cleared by Hawa Cissoko.
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In the final minutes, the hosts put the game to bed when substitute Cuthbert fired home as added time beckoned. It was a victory that sends them to the summit of the table, with their rivals all playing on Sunday.