This was supposed to be Jess Fishlock’s farewell to Reading. Having joined the club on loan for 8 months, she was finishing up and heading back stateside to re-join OL Reign ahead of the NWSL season. In her pre-match video, she touched on her team’s frustrating inconsistencies, stating it made the wins more difficult to enjoy. The match that was to follow was the perfect example of this and if Reading were hoping to give her something to celebrate in her final fixture, it wasn’t to be.
Not many would have predicted the way in which West Ham proceeded to tear apart a notoriously resilient Reading side in the first half. It was a display of utter dominance from Olli Harder’s side, who have definitely struggled creatively this season.
They were on the front foot from the first whistle, using the width of the pitch well and putting early pressure on the Reading goal. It paid off! With seven minutes on the clock, Kenza Dali made their good start count with what can only be described as a cross come shot, or what has now been termed as a ‘crot’ thanks to Beth Mead. As she delivered the ball from about 35 yards, no one in the stadium thought it would end up in the back of the net, including Grace Moloney in the Reading goal, until it did.
What followed was a crazy five minutes in which the Hammers scored two more goals through Katerina Svitková and Martha Thomas. They were cutting through Reading’s defence like butter with every attack, taking advantage in particular of the space afforded to them down the right flank. To say Reading were missing Emma Mitchell’s defensive nous is an understatement.
With the hosts struggling to string their passes together, West Ham kept pushing forward and with less than 40 minutes on the clock, they had put the game to bed. Thomas was at the centre of it all, finally getting the rewards for the endless amounts of running she has done over the last few weeks. Her second was a fine bit of link-up play with Cecilie Redisch as they burst through the middle before she dinked a lob over Moloney to register her hat-trick.
“It was a fantastic performance from Martha Thomas, and as a striker, it’s been difficult for her in the last few matches or so, not scoring and obviously wanting to and creating good chances for herself. Today, she managed to put three in the back of the net. That will do her the world of good.”
OLLI HARDER, WEST HAM MANAGERS
Reading were improved in the second half. Rachel Rowe, forever a thorn in the oppositions’ defences, saw her brilliant volley denied by an equally top-class Courtney Brosnan save, while Fara Williams rattled the crossbar. But realistically, the game was already done and the plaudits belonged to West Ham. Finally, one to celebrate after an incredibly tough few months.
Although they have struggled this year, finding themselves propping up the table, it did look in their showing at Old Trafford last week as though West Ham’s tactics were starting to click. Despite the 2-0 loss, they made the home team very uncomfortable and were unlucky not to find the net, particularly in the first half. They more than made up for it on Saturday with Harder impressed by his side’s endeavour, admitting post-match that he would’ve preferred for the goals to have been spread out across the two games: “It’s about putting the opposition under pressure. Every game has a different aspect to it and for us, with this game, we needed to get out, get on the front foot and managed to put the ball in the back of the net.”
With Aston Villa and Bristol City both losing in Sunday’s games, West Ham have leap-frogged them both to sit 10th in the table. They are also one point shy of Birmingham in 9th, with a game in hand. With just seven points separating 8th placed Tottenham and Villa at the bottom, it is so difficult to call who will be the one to drop to the Championship next season. With inconsistent performances and surprising results happening in the lower half of the table, it will no doubt go down to the wire.
There are five games left to play and a huge run-in awaits this West Ham squad. No one is more aware of this than Harder, who was determined not to get too carried away by his side’s victory: “It was a good win; there is a long road ahead for us. This will hopefully turn the corner here and push on. So, it was good to get a result and there is lots of work to do.“