Manager Matt Beard says reaching the FA Cup final with West Ham in his team’s first year as a professional outfit is “the biggest achievement of my career,” WRITES TONY LEIGHTON
The Hammers have never before reached the final, which will be the biggest day in the club’s history when they step out at Wembley on 4th May.
They had to mop up some serious pressure from Reading throughout the game, which ended 1-1 after extra time before a penalty shoot-out that they won 4-3.
“It was a real battle,” said Beard. “They were very direct, but we contained them quite well.
“It was hard to get into our rhythm and we rode our luck massively when Fara (Williams) missed a penalty then missed another great chance in stoppage time. But we had a couple of good chances ourselves, and I felt we were really resilient.
“This is the biggest achievement of my football career – we had six weeks to build this team, we’ve had a lot of adversity with injuries and so from my perspective from everything we’ve achieved this has got to be a bigger achievement than when I won the league with Liverpool.”
Beard’s captain Gilly Flaherty, an FA Cup winner previously with Arsenal and Chelsea, was understandably delighted but admitted: “It wasn’t a pretty game.
“Both teams were fighting and we had to dig deep, to defend really well. We bounced back right away from going a goal down and then we had to ride it out – but I was confident when it went to penalties.”
Central defender Flaherty herself scored from the spot to keep the Hammers in the shoot-out before South Korean midfielder ChoSo-Hyun hit the winner.
“As the penalties went along,” said Flaherty, “I was thinking ‘is it going to come down to me as the fifth one.’
“When it came to my turn I thought about smashing the ball at the net, but I decided to get it close to the corner and I was so happy to see the ball go in.
“Then Cho scored her penalty and it was a fantastic feeling for all of us – now we’re looking forward to what’s going to be a very special day for everyone involved in getting us to the final.”
Beard had sympathy for Reading, admitting that the result was “harsh” on his opponents, and a bitterly disappointed Royals manager Kelly Chambers said: “When you’ve dominated a game for 90 minutes – and extra time – you kinda go, ‘how are we not in that final?’
“But I don’t think it was our day today, with the injuries we picked up, the referee decisions that didn’t go our way – I’ve heard that we should have had three more penalties than the one we had. The ref’s missed big decisions today and it’s a hard pill to swallow.”