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Queen's Park Rangers 1 West Ham Utd 2
West Ham United grabbed a very late but thoroughly deserved opening day victory to spoil Queen's Park Rangers' return to the Southern Division of the FAWPL.
Kelley Blanchflower scored 30 seconds from the end of additional time to clinch the points in manager Julian Dicks' first competitive game in charge as the Irons overturned a half time deficit. West Ham had hit the woodwork and had been denied by a string of fine saves by keeper Jo Ayre in the second half but, just as it seemed that the home team had clung on to a point, Blanchflower arrived at the far post to force home the winner from close range.
West Ham started the brighter, moving the ball around slickly and pressurising the Rangers defence. Ayre punched a dangerous cross clear, held a Stacey Little shot and Sarah McCrea was just too high with an effort from distance. Rangers nearly conceded an own goal with a misdirected back header just wide but took the lead on 24 minutes with a super move. Elly Maggs provided the through pass and the ball was worked from the right to an onrushing Kasha Petit on the left edge of the area where she finished coolly past Nikita Runnacles.
The goal settled Rangers somewhat but West Ham were still moving forward well. Blanchflower had an effort well held by Ayre on 39 minutes after a ball over the top. Runnacles did well to smother a dangerous free kick on the edge of her six yard box, but Rangers had offered little threat going forward despite going to the break a goal to the good.
Danica Revell made a well timed saving tackle to deny Stacey Sowden an early sight of goal for Rangers after the interval but West Ham were very close to an equaliser on 52 minutes. A fine through ball by Ruby Baxter released Vicky Kinsman who was twice thwarted by excellent saves from Ayre when through on the Rangers keeper.
Ayre was then out quickly to save from Emma Sherwood who also had a great chance five minutes later when set up by Kinsman, but she shot straight at Ayre.
Rangers were looking more dangerous themselves and Sowden nearly took advantage of a poor clearance but hit a shot narrowly wide. Petit went on a fine run and her cross looked to have set up a shooting chance but the Hammers defence blocked well. However it was West Ham who levelled on the hour when Lindsey Morgan sent in a looping header from the edge of the area which found the top corner. Little nearly gave West Ham the lead two minutes later but headed just wide from a Blanchflower corner.
Another inswinging corner from the same player was cleared off the line with loud claims for handball going unheeded on 71 minutes. As the end of the match drew closer, West Ham were piling on the pressure. A 30-yarder from Blanchflower crashed off the bar and Ayre did very well to save follow up efforts from McCrea and Kinsman on 88 minutes. Another ball over the top saw McCrea clear and she flicked the ball over the onrushing Ayre but the retreating Rangers defenders were able to smuggle the ball clear.
Deep into added time West Ham found the winner. .A deep free kick was helped back across a crowded six yard area and Blanchflower stole in to slip the ball under Ayre from five yards to the delight of players, coaching staff and travelling supporters.
There was barely time to restart the match and Rangers, who had defended bravely, were left deflated by coming so close to taking a point, but West Ham had shown them the challenge they will have to meet in stepping up from the former South East Combination. West Ham looked a well organised and highly committed team with Blanchflower, returning after a long absence through injury, having an outstanding match.
Queen's Park Rangers: Jo Ayre, Jeta Bytyqi, Lauren Gage, Seun Odeniyi, Elly Maggs, Kasha Petit, Stacey Sowden, Sarah Staples, Sophie Ferguson, Katie Wilding, Leanne Mabey. Subs: Zemeka Clark.
West Ham United: Nikita Runnacles, Vicky King, Jess Barling, Ruby Baxter, Danica Revell, Lindsey Morgan, Sarah McCrea, Stacey Little, Vicky Kinsman, Kelley Blanchflower, Emma Sherwood. Subs: Alma Donohoe, Ellen Powles, Lily Mellors, Zoe Lipley-Hinton, April Bowers.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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