Palace Ladies suffered a frustrating game of missed opportunities and significant injury at home to West Ham on Sunday, in the FA Women’s Premier League.
Looking to banish the rare loss, encountered last weekend, The Eagles went into the match in positive mood, with forward Sam Rowlands making her Eagles debut, alongside Nikita Whinnett, with Gemma Bryan starting on the bench; still managing a slight strain.
The game kicked off with the hosts looking to set the pace, working their way into a good rhythm against a West Ham team that have significantly improved as the season has progressed.
The early pressure was pretty much all Palace, in a demanding fixture that has seen The South Londoners suffer worrying numbers of injuries in the past. It was as early as the third minute when Palace midfield dynamo, Lilli Maple suffered a worrying blow to the face. Typically, after some treatment, Lilli was back and putting in a terrific shift for her team.
Much of the early impetus was created by the lively and tenacious Whinnett, who was looking to impose herself on the game, when, in the 14th minute, she pulled up following a quick turn; immediately signalling to the bench for help. Following a lengthy spell of treatment, Whinnett was stretchered off, substituted by Tia Foreman.
Palace continued to dominate the play, albeit rarely fully testing the Hammers ‘keeper, although Ciara Sherwood went close from a number of free-kicks conceded as West Ham looked to disrupt the threat of Ellie Stenning, Ellie Bailes and Sam Rowlands. As with the week before, Palace went in at half time without scoring and having failed to maximise their dominant spells of possession. To their credit, an organised West Ham line up were as much to blame for any frustration felt by the home team.
The second half started and as early as the 48th minute, the frustration was again felt, as Foreman collected a ball spilled by the ‘keeper, only to see her shot blocked by a covering defender. The second period saw West Ham look to hit Palace on the counter-attack and at times called upon a strong rear guard action, from captain Freya Holdaway, Sarah Jones, Rosie Paye and ‘keeper Megen Lynch.
In fact, it was Lynch who earned the plaudits during a spell of Hammers pressure, including a tip over the bar in the 57th minute and a stunning double save in the 60th minute, initially diving low to her right to keep the ball our from a shot by Stobbs, through a crowded box, and then springing to her feet to block the follow up shot.
Almost immediately, Palace brought on Bryan who looked to stretch the West Ham back line, linking up for the first time with Rowlands. The Eagles, mixing up direct and some wide play (Jade Davenport and Tia Foreman) looked to make the most of Bryan’s arrival and committed bodies forwards in a bid to win the game. This, naturally allowed West Ham the counter attacks that they were set up for, with Stobbs continuing to be the main threat.
Perhaps the moment that not only defined this match, but the last couple for Palace, came in the 87th minute, when the tireless Bailes slipped the ball through to Rowlands who went one on one with the ‘keeper and somehow managed to put the ball wide of the far post. This was the last clear cut chance of a game that saw Palace take a point, but leave feeling an all too familiar sense of frustration.
Speaking after the match, a clearly disappointed Palace boss, Dean Davenport summed up the feelings in the camp,
“We are pretty disappointed to be honest. We know that we can play much better than we have over the last couple of games. Yes, we are now playing teams who are not only improving but have learned a little bit more about us – but we are getting the chances and for some reason, not being able to cash them in. We have all got to look at what needs addressing and use the strengths that we know we have in the group, to see us back to what we do best.”
The coach also gave an update on the injury to Nikita. “It is a knee injury. We are having to wait on the updates from the hospital, but initially did not look good. Players often know when it is a bad one, and she pulled up straight away. It is a shame, as she has been working hard since returning from a long lay off and was looking sharp. Whatever the prognosis, knowing Nik, she will battle hard to come back.”
Palace Ladies are not currently scheduled for a match next weekend.