Cornering the market

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Chelsea manager Emma Hayes admits that her team’s corner-kicking is just not up to snuff, and that she’ll be introducing a tougher training regime in the coming week to put that right, writes Jane Grove.

Although the Blues eventually achieved a remarkable turnaround against West Ham at Rush Green on Sunday afternoon, the wastefulness of Chelsea’s seemingly endless rat-tat-tat of wayward and unproductive corners in the first half could have cost the side three critical WSL points.

Corner after corner after corner may have reflected the Blues’ dominance in the opening 45 minutes at the Hammers’ sun-soaked training ground, but each effort came to nothing, leaving Chelsea exposed to the almost inevitable second-half sucker punch two minutes before the hour mark as sub Adriana Leon – one of just four girls on the Irons’ depleted bench – came on and instantly scored.

Hayes, encased in a white puffa jacket, was hopping up and down in frustration on the touchline as the repeated corners went begging, and confirmed that while she was delighted with the eventual outcome, maximising the advantage from corners was going to be her No1 focus on the practice pitches at Cobham in the coming days.

“I think the team could have executed a number of things better, and that’s for me to address this week at training,” she said. “With the amount of chances we created, we should have scored more than three goals, but we’ll focus on the three points and the team recovering from a goal down.”

It was GL Sport’s happy task to tell Hayes that her team had gone top of the table after the impressive turnaround; a further testament to Chelsea’s training regime that combines fitness, energy and positivity to equip the squad to stay the course for the full 90 minutes, including the crucial final 10-minute spell when opponents start to weary.

“I didn’t know we were top until you just told me!” laughed the manager. “That’s great news! But still the most important thing for us is to focus on taking just one game at a time, week to week.

“We shouldn’t be thinking too hard about points and positions [in the table], because it’s not relevant,” she said, adding that nothing could cloud her joy at seeing her players fight back from going behind. “I’m very proud of them,” she said.

West Ham, wearing their pink breast cancer charity tops, were facing a Chelsea team with Ramona Bachmann in for Fran Kirby, and partnering Beth England up front. Wearing their customary blue kit, they knew they had the opportunity to go top of the table after Arsenal had defeated Manchester City in the day’s earlier kick-off.

In making changes to the team that had beaten Palace in the Conti Cup, Hayes brought in Ann-Katrin Berger between the sticks, and found starting places for Magdalena Eriksson, Jonna Andersson, Sophie Ingle, Guro Reiten and Ji So-Yun – the Korean ultimately paying back her manager with one of the finest strikes in WSL history, never mind this season.

Hammers keeper Courtney Brosnan was busiest in the first half, but Chelsea simply couldn’t make all the positional advantage tell.

England struck the crossbar (a feat repeated by Millie Bright in the second half), but there was no breakthrough.

As the game opened up after the interval, Irons boss Matt Beard introduced Adriana Leon – and in the space of 10 seconds was celebrating the lead as Berger stopped one effort, but couldn’t keep out a second.

Cue Fran Kirby’s arrival on the pitch from the bench, for her 100th game for the club. The  Blues’ equaliser finally arrived through Ingle, set up by Ji.

Two minutes later it was 2-1 to Chelsea as Reiten played the ball back for the advancing Ji to let fly.

The rocket kick from 25 yards simply flew into the net past Brosnan, and when late sub Drew Spence added a third in stoppage time, the wind had been well and truly knocked out of a gallant West Ham side.

Next up for the Blues, a third away game on the spin down at the Dripping Pan against Lewes in the Conti Cup.