Is this the real life? Is this a winning streak for Villa?
After a massive three points away to Bristol City, another win at West Ham made it three out of three wins in all competitions for the West Midlands side as Carla Ward’s team continue to put their early-season struggles behind them. Every point counts in a tight lower half of the table and Villa Women are lifting themselves up with an overdue upturn in form.
The game was pretty even throughout the first half with chances being fired at both goalkeepers and it was a testament to both teams’ defence that it stayed 0-0 after some close calls. It was clear both sides were here to fight for the win, but it felt like the hosting Hammers had the advantage, and they took the lead just before the 30-minute mark, when Adriana Leon brought Kirsty Smith down in the box and the home side were given a penalty. Viviane Asseyi sent Daphne van Domselaar completely the wrong way. Cool, calm, and collected, the Irons took the lead at 1-0.
In previous games, this is where we’ve seen the Villa heads drop and the opposition goals allowed to flood in. Thankfully, this was not the case on Sunday.
The team bound together and kept fighting, showing the winning mentality is back in claret and blue. Five minutes later the fight paid off, as Anna Patten headed the equaliser home after the visiting side won a corner. A special moment for the defender as it was Patten’s first-ever WSL goal. At 1-1, it was game on and for the rest of the first half, it was end-to-end with neither team able to break the deadlock. Leon had the ball in the net after a lovely through ball from Laura Blinkilde-Brown, but the Canadian was ruled to be offside.
At half-time, Ward knew something needed to change and brought on experienced midfielder Jordan Nobbs, in an effort to make the difference in the match. Within five minutes of the half restarting, Leon (who is playing superbly, might I add) got the goal she deserved with a well-placed left-footed shot into the top left corner. Her first goal for Aston Villa was incredibly well-deserved. Her subsequent celebration like a child on Christmas Day showed you exactly how much that moment meant to her, and in turn, the fans.
The away support did not stop singing throughout the game, spurring their team to fight until the end. In fact, it was loud enough to hear clearly through the live stream and for the commentator to praise the support several times throughout the game.
With the away side taking the lead, West Ham didn’t ease up the pressure and between the fantastic skills of Riko Ueki and Asseyi, I’m not sure how the home side didn’t score sooner. It must also be noted that Van Domselaar was able to squash any negativity regarding her recent performances by pulling off some spectacular saves that definitely kept Villa in the game.
In the 55th minute, Villa fans’ hearts stopped momentarily as Abbey-Leigh Stringer’s header hit the crossbar. It was clear to see another goal was coming in the match, but Ward pushed for a third by bringing on Ebony Salmon (who scored against Bristol City) in place of Kirsty Hanson, who wasn’t able to make as much impact on the game as she would have liked.
Unknown to the visitors, the next substitution for West Ham would be key. Within six minutes of coming onto the pitch, the incredible quality of Lisa Evans was on display for all to see. After winning a corner, Kirsty Smith sent the ball into the box and after an initial clearance by the ever-reliable Dan Turner, the ball found its way to the feet of Evans who absolutely buried it into the top right corner to make it 2-2 in the 80th minute. A brilliant shot that should be up for goal of the month.
Hearts were racing and for the fans and neutrals alike, this was an incredibly exciting game as it felt like absolutely anything could happen. In a true reflection of the tension the fans were feeling, the number of fouls and yellow cards ramped up for both teams too. Salmon almost got her moment in the 86th minute, but the ball went just wide as Villa pushed for a winner.
The number nine has a point to prove and is always there when you need her. After an initial cross into the box from captain Rachel Corsie and a flick-on from Maz Pacheco, the England international caught it sweetly on the volley as she turned (like so many of her past screamers have been) and found the top corner with her left foot. Mackenzie Arnold didn’t stand a chance.
It was the magical moment for Villa, although there was one more heart-stopping moment in store as Daly had another decisive contribution. In the 97th minute, the home side won their final corner of the match for one last chance to split the points as even goalkeeper Arnold came up for support. After a lovely ball from Evans, Ueki’s header came straight at the goal and Daly was the superstar once more as her spectacular goal-line clearance was the last touch of the game, securing the three points for Ward’s claret and blue army.
In their post-match interviews, both Daly and Ward acknowledged that although it wasn’t going to be easy, they knew exactly what they needed to do to get the win. Daly also mentioned she was “more gassed” with her last-minute clearance on the line than her goal, showing how crucial that moment was to seal the win and allow Villa to climb the table into ninth place.
The confidence to fight until the very end is what we’ve been missing from this team, but it’s back. We can’t wait to see how they perform on Wednesday in the FA Cup at Villa Park against an Everton side who’ve also proven to be a tough opponent so far this season.