Ladies storm out of the blocks with 1-0 triumph over West Ham.
Gillingham Ladies kicked off the new FA Women’s Premier League Southern season with a win over West Ham United Ladies at MEMS Priestfield Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Ladies, playing their first fixture at Priestfield since December 2014, took all three points courtesy of Kallie Balfour’s 89th minute strike.
Jack Wheeler’s side had four players making debuts for the club amongst the starting eleven, highlighting the summer transformation enforced on the manager by player departures. Lotti Klatt, Esther Anu, Sharna Giordani and former Gills midfielder Danni Farmer made her third debut for the club.
West Ham United Ladies fielded two familiar faces for the home side, defender Mollie Kmita won promotion with the Gills last season before a summer move. Hammers defensive midfielder Charlotte Long was in the Gillingham side that achieved the club’s highest ever league position in 2013/14. Both would find a starting place against the Gills this time.
Gillingham started the game with the visitors pressing for an opening early on. Amber Stubbs’ through ball to Molly Peters was initially blocked by Gills keeper Courtney Shanly but the loose ball was picked up by Peters who only managed to put a shot wide of the target.
West Ham’s early dominance in possession didn’t muster the rewards of the numerous chances. Chloe Burr put an effort high over the bar before Peters once again beat the defensive line and missed the target at the near post and put the shot wide.
Gillingham summoned their first chance of the game with just under half an hour gone. Lotti Klatt’s throw in found Farmer on the edge of the penalty area and smart footwork earned the space for a shot. Her looping effort was wide of the far post.
Gills ended the first half with Farmer looking to break the deadlock with a long range effort. The shot beat the line of defenders but was tame by the time it reached Chanell Vardley in the West Ham goal.
After the interval West Ham were again the better starters in the half with three efforts in quick succession. Stobbs tested Courtney Shanly from range which the Gills keeper dealt with easily. Shona Chitatae-Samuriwo had an effort for the visitors but the shot was blocked by Gills defender Vanisha Patel to deflect the effort while Stobbs once again tried from distance to catch out Shanly with no luck.
West Ham were pushing the Gills defensive boundaries, Stubbs square ball to Andreya Ezekiel-Meade look a certainty to open the scoreline. However Shanly was alert and pulled out a fine stop to deny the West Ham forward from six yards.
Gills first chance of the second half came from a corner. Jade Keogh’s delivery was spilled by the goalkeeper into the path of Farmer, her shot was cleared on the line by Chenise Austin and scrambled to safety.
West Ham’s closest chance of the second half came on the 80th minute. Amy Cooper played through Kelly Nealthall whose clever turn gave her the opportunity to shoot. Rachel Ahern’s fine last gasp block got enough in the way to send the ball wide of the post for a corner.
Gills managed to steal the points in the last minute. Farmer’s brilliantly weighted lobbed pass found Balfour’s run between the two West Ham centre-backs. The forward stormed through, rounded the outrushing goalkeeper and as Hammers defender Chenise Austin desperately raced and dived in to recover, Balfour tapped in to net the winner.
At the whistle the elation of joy and relief outpoured amongst the Gills players and fans, a tough game taking maximum rewards from it, Gills Ladies season gets underway with a bang and securing points on the board early on.
Sunday’s [27th] visitors are local rivals Charlton Athletic Women who make the short trip down from South London to Kent. Kick-off is 2pm at MEMS Priestfield Stadium. Follow us on Social Media and keep all up to date! We are on Twitter @GillsLadiesFC, Facebook @GillinghamLFC, Snapchat GillsLadiesFC and Instagram GillinghamLadiesFC.