Palace Ladies secured another win to see out 2017 away at West Ham on Sunday, with the 2-0 victory securing 2nd place as they head into the Christmas break.
The match played in very wintery conditions at the West Ham training ground saw Palace rely on patience and belief as, not for the first time this season, they needed to contend with a well organised team camped in their own half, seeking counter-attack opportunities. The Hammers, certainly improved since Palace last played them, made life difficult for Palace, restricting them to only a few chances in the opening exchanges.
The Palace patience paid dividends in the 26th minute when Ciara Sherwood controlled the ball, outside the area and fired a shot into the far corner, beyond the West Ham keeper whose brave attempt after an initial loss of footing, was in vain. Palace appeared to settle a little, having taken the lead, and started to pass the ball around well, although clear cut chances remained at a premium. The hosts occasionally threatened through the use of their pace and some neat football, although found the Palace defence, marshalled expertly by captain, Freya Holdaway, equal to their efforts, heading into half time.
The second half saw Palace enjoy more of the possession with extended periods of passing and better penetration, with Gemma Bryan starting to cause concern for the two defenders deployed to stifle her. West Ham, again, offered an occasional threat on the break, although, as before, was well managed and failed to secure a meaningful shot against Megen Lynch in the Palace goal. With Davenport making substitutions, one as a result of a nasty looking tackle on the influential Leesa Haydock, Palace continued to press.
The result was confirmed in the 88th minute when Bryan broke free from her shackles, spun her defenders and drove down the inside left channel. Upon reaching the six yard box, she expertly drew the ball back, sending the covering defender the wrong way and fired a shot across the goal mouth, stabbed home by substitute, Ellie Stenning.
Manager, Dean Davenport admitted, “The first half was a slow starter and we were not always at our best, but it was good to see that even when things were not going their way, the team did the basics and showed resilience.
“We spoke of the need to retain and use the ball, at the break and to continue to work the opportunities." added Davenport, “It was important to remember how we had let opportunities like this slip in the past, through becoming impatient, and that belief in our abilities was paramount.
“This match was another example of how we needed to apply ourselves to a different part of our game. Everyone knows that we like to play the free-flowing football and make the game a spectacle and as a result, we often come up against teams determined to prevent this. What we showed today, as we have done when needed this season, is that we can adapt and whilst the game may not be the prettiest, we can still get the result.”
Asked to look at the season so far as the half way stage was now upon us, Davenport was full of positivity.
“I am really pleased for the players and everyone working so hard at this club. We have looked to play the right kind of football, and have kept pace with the front runners. We are 12 games in, have scored 34 and only conceded five. We did drop a couple of points along the way, but showed our strengths in the games that followed. We go into the break in second place, five points behind Charlton, with a game in hand. With all that is being worked on across the Palace family, 2018 could be a huge year in our history – something that everyone at Palace Ladies is so very proud of.”