Gilly Flaherty: I have such fond memories of Reading semi-final win
On this day two years ago, West Ham United Women walked out onto the pitch at Adams Park – looking to secure a victory that would see them reach an FA Cup final in their first season as a professional club.
A seven-time winner of England’s most prestigious cup competition, Flaherty was no stranger to such a big occasion, as she led out her team against Reading in front of a packed crowd.
“I have a lot of good memories in the FA Cup,” Flaherty began. “It’s a special competition for everybody but more so for English players because we know the heritage of the Cup. It’s been that pinnacle game in terms of Women’s football because it’s that opportunity to play at Wembley or another big stadium.
“When I think back to when it was played at Nottingham Forest, you pulled in crowds of more than 20,000 people, which was at the very start, over 10 years ago. It’s always been the competition that people want to win because of the heritage and everything that comes with that.“
In this semi-final clash, Rachel Furness' powerful header gave Reading the lead in normal time, but Alisha Lehmann prodded West Ham level.
Reading's Fara Williams - who clipped the bar in the first half - then hit the post with a penalty before firing a gilt-edged chance wide in injury time.
After extra-time produced no further goals, Cho So-hyun scored the winning spot-kick to send West Ham to Wembley.
“I have such fond memories of our match against Reading and can’t quite believe it’s been two years since we played at Adams Park. On the day we weren’t at our best and we had to win it on penalties. I just think back to it being such a fantastic day. The fans were incredible, we had big number of West Ham fans there cheering us on!
“I’ve said on so many occasions that our fans have pulled us through in difficult situations, and that was one of those,” Flaherty said.
The Hammers navigated potential banana skins en route to the semi-final, as they convincingly beat Blackburn, Huddersfield and Aston Villa to set up the tie at Adams Park.
“Every round we managed to be drawn against a team from a lower level up until we played Reading, so as we kept progressing you kept thinking in the back of your mind, this could be our year.
“Reading was the toughest game out of the whole run to the final, but thankfully we got the job done.”
The east Londoners came out on top in a nervy penalty shoot-out, in which Flaherty found the back of the net, despite a big touch from Irish international, Grace Moloney, in the Reading goal.
"For me personally, penalties are always nerve-wracking, but at the same time I felt as though we had luck on our side.
“If you watch back my penalty the keeper almost keeps the ball out of the net, but thankfully it bobbled in. They had already missed a penalty in the match, so it just gave us all a little bit of confidence really.
“We were absolutely buzzing to be able to win the game and get to Wembley in our first season as a professional outfit, and I know they are memories that I will treasure.”
The Hammers begin their 2020/21 Vitality Women’s FA Cup campaign this weekend, as Flaherty’s side welcome National League outfit Chichester & Selsey to Victoria Road.
“This will be their cup final, and we’ve got to show them respect. They’ve beaten two teams to get here this afternoon, so we have to make sure that we’re not complacent, stay professional and get the job done.
“You see upsets in the men’s game - there are a lot of them because the top team take the game for granted and don’t show their opponents enough respect. At the end of the day, it’s another game of football that we need to win,” she added.