It was a competitive start to the London City Lionesses Continental Cup run, as they fell to a tightly contested 1-0 defeat to West Ham United Women.
Under the floodlights of Princes Park, London City started well, exploiting United’s right-hand side to force an early corner, and save from West Ham keeper Anna Leat.
But very soon the Hammers started to find their rhythm, putting City’s resolute defending to the test.
With 15 minutes gone, West Ham were rewarded for their pressure. A well struck free kick by Yui Hasegawa was met by Lucy Parker, who slotted her shot just past the gloves of Shae Yanez.
Much like last weekend though, the goal did little to deter the Lionesses, as they went in search of an equaliser, with set plays continuing to be a strong weapon in their arsenal.
With half an hour gone, West Ham were reminded of this, when Atlanta Primus delivered a free kick into a dangerous area, forcing the Hammers back line to scramble to get the ball away.
The first half continued to produce some exciting end to end football, with Yanez called into action to make a series of impressive saves.
Yet with time ticking down to half time, the best chance of the half fell to the City number nine, Rianna Jarrett, who made a superb run to the near post to get her head on the end of Primus’ corner. Yet the attempt was just off target, and hastily cleared away by the United defence.
The second half began in much the same fashion as the first had ended, with both teams not giving an inch in the hunt for the second goal of the game.
Just under 10 minutes into the half, Primus had a great opportunity to put the home side ahead. The move was started by Mollie Rouse, who, after weaving her way through the West Ham midfield, was able to pick up Jarrett, who squared it to her. But the shot was well saved.
Despite this, City continued to be the dominant force in the second half, constantly pressing high up the pitch, and sending in a succession of crosses into the visitor’s box.
Yet West Ham also continued to be a danger, with Yanez continuing to pull off some fine saves to prevent the visitors doubling their lead, with one at 70 minutes where she was forced to dive to her left to palm out a strong header, particularly impressive.
But City never gave up, and with a free kick on the edge of the area in the 90th minute, they had a chance to send the game to penalties. Yet Rouse’s powerfully struck effort just skimmed the crossbar.
Speaking after the game, manager Mellissa Phillips spoke of her pride in her team’s performance over the 90 minutes.
“It was a high-level game tonight,” she remarked, “we did a really good job of problem solving throughout.
“They play a difficult formation, and our girls did an excellent job to figure out matchups through midfield. We picked the ball off them in really good areas which led to some quality opportunities. After the first 10 minutes, we settled in and actually then had a lot of spells in possession. Really proud of the group as it was a lot of things that we’ve been building on”
Indeed, it’s clear that, for Phillips, such a performance demonstrated her belief that this team of players is ready for that step up to the WSL.
“We know we can compete with the top teams,” she said, “I think you can see that even in our league. Now it is about playing at the pace that we did tonight and asserting ourselves and the final third, ultimately finishing our chances.”
But for the next two weeks, the focus for some of the Lionesses will switch from domestic to national, as the second international break of the season now begins.
“We love the international breaks as they’re an opportunity to focus on ourselves,” commented Phillips, “and it's an opportunity for us to improve within our units, individuals and small groups, within our style of play.
“Ultimately, we want to come out of the break feeling fresh, healthy, fit, and prepared. Tonight's performance just kick-started that, so we will take some time to rejuvenate before looking to stretch ourselves in the week ahead.”
For the London City Lionesses, they next return to Princes Park on the 14th of November to take on Sheffield United Women. Click the link to get your tickets now!