Palace Ladies concluded a spell of three games in seven days, away at West Ham Ladies on Sunday. In a week that has seen the credentials of The Eagles thoroughly tested, The Ladies delivered once again.
Having played the two title favourites, Spurs and Charlton earlier in the week and won the plaudits of many with two outstanding performances, the West Ham game was not being taken lightly.
Outside of the club, there were those who had seen The Eagles as a team that was good to have in the top tier of The FA Women’s Premier League, but not likely to cause too much of a stir amongst the well-established. The previous two games had served notice, that the efforts of Palace over the previous two seasons at the lower level, were being brought to the higher level – something that The Eagles would now have to live up to.
Speaking before the match, manager, Dean Davenport spoke of the new levels of expectations, “As a club, we knew what we could achieve. Our expectations have been realistic, but always at the higher end of achieving. Naturally, some saw the move up a league as being a barrier to our continued development. The Charlton and Spurs performances seemed to have got people thinking and perceptions changing. Rather than us just being seen by some as the new guys looking to enjoy the promotion, we have started to create an air of expectation in what we do. To be honest, this is no problem for us, as we knew what we could achieve within our set-up. The only thing for us to do, is live up to the standards we set.”
Although, on recent form, West Ham looked like posing less of a threat than the previous two opponents, the games between the two have always been well contested and nothing could be taken for granted.
Palace travelled, still, without the injured, captain Freya Holdaway (foot), Nicha Dyett (broken leg), Abigail Igbavboa (hamstring) and Ciara Sherwood (International duty). However, The Eagles were boosted by the signing, this week of the experienced and talented Lilly Maple (formerly in Women’s Super League with Millwall).
Following recent results that have seen The Hammers look to resolve issues by getting behind the ball and frustrating opponents, Palace were aware that they may have plenty of possession, but needed equal levels of patience.
The match started as predicted, with Palace owning the ball and seeking to work a way through two banks of defenders in the West Ham half. The Eagles were lively and creative in their use of the ball and set their stall out early when Megan Goss finished a fine move, inside the first ten minutes, with a cool finish to the ‘keepers right to put Palace one up. The flow of the game remained unchanged with West Ham limited to long balls up the field, for hopeful counter-attacks, which were a rare respite from the Palace pressure.
The score line was added to mid-way through the first half when, Gemma Bryan; who with Roschelle Shakes was terrorising the West Ham defence, collected, controlled and crashed the ball home from 25 yards. Whilst West Ham were disciplined in the their efforts, Palace were dominant and but for the completion of a few more final third passes, could have threatened more than they were.
Shortly before half time, it was Bryan who again netted, breaking into the left side of the area and calmly slotting the ball into the far right corner of the net.
The second half saw the game continue as the first with relentless Palace possession and determined defiance from the home side. Palace went close on numerous occasions and were guilty of wasting a few good opportunities, but remained focussed and professional in their approach.
With substitutions that saw the introduction of Maple, Jade Davenport and Alma Donohoe, Palace looked to maintain the tempo against a tiring West Ham. The scoring was wrapped up 15 minutes from time when a well worked phase of play from the right, saw Davenport fouled ten yards from goal. The resulting penalty was coolly dispatched by Shakes, helping Palace home to a comfortable 4-0 win.
Speaking post-match, Dean Davenport spoke highly of his squad, “This week has seen us properly tested and we have done ourselves proud. Even with key absences, we have shown the quality of personnel we have, our unity, never say die attitude and what every Palace fan wants to see – the very most a team can give. The performances on Sunday and Wednesday were exceptional and we could have come away with more in terms of points that we did. However, we are realistic and we are still learning. Part of that was coming to West Ham today and doing what we needed to. The girls did just that. A professional and controlled approach to things, and three good points. We still have a long way to go and plenty of work ahead to show what we are truly capable of in this league, but to come through these particular three games in only seven days, in the way we have, is very pleasing.”
Asked as to the aspirations for the season, he added,
“These have not changed. We had a simple ambition that we made public – survival in this league. Within the group, we have our own targets set and will do what we can to meet, and hopefully exceed these. This is purely within our own control and we aim to do so in an entertaining and typically Palace style.”
Palace Ladies first team are currently scheduled for a rest day on Sunday, although the first team reserves will be in action, against West Ham reserves, in the cup, at the home of AFC Croydon at The Mayfield Stadium, Thornton Heath, with kick off at 2pm.