The GoatyGav Column
Memorable Semi-Final Sees West Ham Women Win Through To Wembley
Suddenly realising that I didn’t have any cash in the house I jumped in the motor to try and get to the nearest cashpoint. Within two hundred yards I experienced gridlock and did an about turn after which I came face to face with, what I suspect, was the Reading team coach around a corner. Behind the coach were two 17 seater West Ham supporter mini-busses full to the brim with OAP West Ham fans who smiled as I, safely and slowly, mounted the pavement beside them to get around and out towards the 2nd nearest Tesco Express. Following a quick visit to the cash dispenser I headed away from the numbers, using local route knowledge and got back without further incident.
After a telling off for forgetting to buy the milk I hot-footed it out of the door and walked the 10 minutes to Adams Park at a brisk pace. The first steward I spoke to sent me to the home end where I was asked, by another steward, Alan, who I know personally, to go back if I wanted to pay by cash. On the way up I got chatting to a father and son who’d come from Leeds to see the game. They asked me if I’d travelled far to which I said “Oh yeah – the ten minute walk was murder.” Walking back I saw the elderly fans I’d seen on the mini-busses earlier – all of whom smiled at one of their own again. After a short time queuing at the Home end turnstile I paid my £7 and went back up towards the Away end where all the West Ham fans were located. I started to get a feel for Women’s football when I was stopped by the officials manning the retractable player ‘tunnel’ and found myself standing right next to the players as they entered the pitch.
When I got up to the West Ham end I couldn’t find a seat and stood by the barrier to the pitch to watch the match. After a relatively slow start, with Hendrix rising imperiously to win two early headers while looking very solid, I saw the first of West Ham’s attacks. It was a nice move down the left hand side with the impressive Claire Rafferty playing a great ball, at the end of it, in to Kiernan. The move didn’t result in anything but it did show signs of promise. With twelve minutes on the clock Rafferty showed the defensive side of her full-back role with a brilliantly timed, chance saving, tackle that any defender would have been proud of.
Despite Reading playing more balls in behind the defence the off-side trap was working well – catching our opponents out three times in the first eight minutes of the game with further instances throughout the first half. The West Ham faithful were in good voice as much of the decent play was coming down the left. In the fifteenth minute one such attack saw Kiernan control well and turn out towards the touchline but instead of playing a give and go with Rafferty she took the defence on herself and lost out to the robust Reading back line. It was at this stage that I, along with others, started to notice some inconsistencies in refereeing decisions with tackles from our ladies being punished with free kicks compared to similar tackles being let go for Reading. More on that later.
Overall I’d say we had the slight better of it up to twenty minutes despite a silly free kick being given away by Gilly Flaherty on our right after eighteen. That said Anna Moorhouse wasn’t troubled with anything that came in to the box. Either she cleared, the ball was over hit by Reading or Brooke Hendrix cleared her lines. With all the decent stuff we saw our women play I felt that Alisha Lehmann wasn’t seeing enough of the ball but as the half went on Katie Longhurst, who was among our best on the day, started to play some terrific football on the deck as she put in a great shift. Late in the half West Ham won a corner from which Lehmann broke and delivered a great ball but nothing came of it. Last action to speak of in the first half saw Gilly Flaherty get her head on a corner which went wide.
I took a stroll in search of a match programme. All sold out in our section I went back towards the Reading end but was held at a barrier that had appeared between the two sets of fans. After a quick “alright” exchanged with Ian ‘Moose’ Abrahams, as he was heading in the opposite direction towards our fans, I took advantage and sneaked past the stewards. Sadly the programmes were also sold out at the Reading end too but thankfully I managed to get back in with our fans as the, overfilled, West Ham section was being allowed free access to again.
I got chatting to Martin from Andover and his charming family who’d travelled up for the match. Martin, many other fans around us and I were convinced that the Ref was a Reading fan but the early stages of the second half appeared to suggest he was attempting to ‘balance out’ some of the perceived bias of the first half. Then the Reading goal. All but left completely unattended Rachel Furness headed in to the corner. A disappointing goal as, similar to the previous day at Old Stretford, we conceded against the run of play. The West Ham girls, however, continued to give their all in front of an encouraging Hammers support. The West Ham faithful’s encouragement was rewarded shortly after when Lehmann found herself in space and slotted home. Many of us commented that we thought the keeper would get to the ball to make the save but it, thankfully, ended up in the back of the net to put us level.
Reading got a hold of it in the following dozen or so minutes and were rewarded with a penalty on sixty eight. We all feared the worst when the vastly experienced Fara Williams stepped up but her strike hit the post and rebounded out to be cleared. What a relief! Williams had a guilt edged chance later that we, once again, expected to see end up in the back of the net but it wasn’t to be her day as the chance was missed to re-instate Reading’s lead.
West Ham finished the stronger, with Longhurst, Rafferty and Lehmann combining well down the left, despite a couple of nervy moments as well as continued poor delivery from Reading. Anna Moorhouse was taken out in the seventy fifth minute which was one of two long stoppages that led to six minutes being added on to the ninety. Before normal time finished an impressive Brianna Visalli, who’d replaced Lucienne Reichardt early in the second half, had a great chance from a wide position but the ball sailed past the post on it’s way out. Interestingly Reading previously had a similar chance that ended in the same way but were awarded a corner – one of the strangest decisions I’ve seen at Adams park since an offside was given directly from a throw in two seasons ago in a game against Morecombe. Frankly it was one of an impressive collection of poor decisions from the Ref who had a bad day at the office.
The second period of extra time was a bit of a blur from which I remember Visalli being pulled down for a free kick between 20-25 yards out which was blasted way over the bar. So penalties it was. Reading’s first was neatly dispatched by Gemma Davidson as was ours by our own number nine Jane Ross. Rakel Honnudottir blasted over before Viaslli had hers saved leaving it at one each. Then a horrible slip and miss was followed up neatly by Adrianna Leon, who also had a good game, to put us two – one up. Reading then drew level before the, otherwise, excellent Longhurst put one over the bar for us to make it two each after four taken. A post and in preceded Gilly Flaherty’s spot kick which found the back of the net despite a keeper’s hand to it before Moorhouse stopped a low shot to set up Cho So-Hyun’s blasted winner in to the top left corner.
Overall I was struck by the accessibility of the players who celebrated WITH the fans – something I’ve not experienced in quite some time. Katie Longhurst came over to us and gave such a genuine, heart felt, “Thank you SO much for your support,” with her eyes welling up with joy and pride – such was her emotion at reaching the final. Credit to Jack Sullivan who took a great deal of time with young fans after his half time interview as well. On my way out I got to give my personal congratulations on a great match to Brooke Hendrix which she acknowledged with a thank you back.
It was a truly memorable occasion that will live long. I hope that the club can do something to help us get to Wembley after the Southampton game at home because I’d love to be there to shout the ladies on again. Big congrats to the team, Matt Beard and his assistants for their, well deserved, booking of their place in the final.
Have a great week all.