Manchester United picked up an impressive 2-0 win over West Ham at Chigwell Construction Stadium and kept pace with the rest of the rivals.
With Chelsea to play Manchester City later and Liverpool to take on Everton in the Merseyside derby, a win was going to be a boost for United. And they left no stone unturned in their efforts to do just that.
Marc Skinner’s side remained unchanged from their impressive triumph over Reading in the previous week, with Maya Le Tissier and Millie Turner starting as the centre-back pairing. The front four of Ella Toone, Alessia Russo, Lucia Garcia and Leah Galton started too, ahead of both Hayley Ladd and Katie Zelem. It was the sort of setup which allowed United to control the game well.
United controlled a fair amount of possession in the early five minutes, sticking to keeping the ball on the right and relying on movement from LGarcia to open up spaces through her movement. Batlle remained high and wide, occupying the Hammers left-back and ex-United defender Kirsty Smith. New signing Le Tissier being a right-sided player helped in establishing a strong foundation for possession.
And Le Tissier was vital in helping United put the ball in the back of the net in the 17th minute, as she switched play for Galton, who set up Toone. While the Euros winner did score, the goal was chalked off because she was in an offside position. If anything, those were promising signs for United.
Le Tissier’s involvement in possession from the back was key in creating another chance for Toone in the 20th minute. The summer signing’s ball down the flank for Batlle saw the Spaniard play in Toone, whose shot was straight at Hammers’ keeper Mackenzie Arnold.
United nearly took the lead in the 22nd minute through Garcia, who was handed a free header in the box from Katie Zelem’s excellent free-kick. But with Arnold closing down the angle for the header, Garcia’s attempt went just over the bar.
The Hammers did grow into the game soon though, as they began keeping hold of the ball in the heart of the park. But United restricted them to only shots from distance, making it easy for Mary Earps.
United had a couple of opportunities to take the lead in stoppage time. It all began with excellent work by Batlle on the right, as she went back two and played in Garcia, who had made a very good run in the channel. But the Spaniard couldn’t find the right cut-back but United did win a corner out of it. It was from the corner that the Reds had a golden chance to take the lead, but Millie Turner only managed to nod it wide.
In the beginning of the first-half, Turner had another chance to head United infront from a Zelem corner. But her attempt was straight at Arnold.
Garcia’s tireless show, though, rewarded her with a goal. The Spaniard made sure that Hawa Cissoko was allowed no time on the ball in possession, won it back, rounded Arnold and slotted it calmly into the bottom corner. It was a goal well deserved for the summer signing.
Five minutes later, United doubled their lead and it was the impressed Batlle who was involved. She finally found a cut-back inside and while it initially missed everyone, Blundell arrived at the edge of the box to place it cooly into the back of the net.
The Hammers nearly pulled one back a couple of minutes later, as miscommunication between Turner and Le Tissier saw Viviane Asseyi capitalise. But the French forward’s effort went wide of Earps’ goal.
Alessia Russo nearly put the final nail in the coffin in the 59th minute, but her header at the far post from close-range trickled just wide.
West Ham did have the ball in the back of the net in the 66th minute after a scramble in the box saw Lucy Parker beat Earps. But after a VAR check, the goal was disallowed.
The Hammers grew into the game a bit as United began to lose control, without really conceding any concrete chances. After having had her shot deflected wide, Russo was taken off for Martha Thomas and the duo of Adriana Leon and Jade Moore also came on.
United nearly got their third about a minute later, as they won the ball in midfield and United skipper Zelem’s shot was saved superbly by Arnold, who tipped it over very well. But the changes from the bench brought about much-needed freshness for United.
Skinner’s side comfortably closed out the game and kept the clean sheet and have now scored six goals, without conceding even once.