Lauren Hemp double sinks West Ham to book Wembley date for Manchester City | Women’s FA Cup

Manchester City flexed their muscles against West Ham in the first of the FA Cup semi-finals, comfortable 4-1 winners on a cloudless afternoon in east London. They are now on the path to securing their second piece of silverware this season after their Continental Cup triumph against Chelsea in March, who they will face again should the Blues emerge victorious in the second semi-final against Arsenal on Sunday.

West Ham took a leaf from the book of the reigning champions, starting the game with an aggressive high press; clearly, they had learned lessons from the 2-0 defeat suffered at the hands of City in the WSL a fortnight ago. The 3-5-2 formation set up by Olli Harder attempted to put those insights into practice, stifling and snuffing out the City attack, while testing a defense that featured two recent returnees from injury in Alanna Kennedy and Alex Greenwood.

For the most part, it worked. Both players were made to feel uncomfortable – Kennedy appeared in a face mask having broken her nose in a friendly encounter against New Zealand on Tuesday – by Katerina Svitková, and Greenwood by Lisa Evans. The latter had been nursing a bad knee and it showed when she gave away possession and almost allowed Dagny Brynjarsdóttir to open the scoring in the 12th minute.

City did not panic and instead waited for West Ham’s collective press to stutter. That is exactly what happened in the 22nd minute after an almighty strike at goal from Keira Walsh that rattled the underside of the crossbar. Before Mackenzie Arnold could figure out where the ball was, Ellen White had acted first to snap up another poacher’s finish.

City smelled blood, bypassing the press with ease and forcing their opponents into playing panicked passes – one of which led to the second goal of the game. This time, it was Gilly Flaherty who found Chloe Kelly with a peach of a ball across the area and the attacker did not fail to convert.

Chloe Kelly (left) and Ellen White were on target as City cruised into the Women’s FA Cup final. Photograph: Henry Browne / Getty Images

There would be some reprieve for the hosts on the verge of half-time and they snatched back a goal through Evans in the 42nd minute. Proof that though this City team were littered with big names, these were players who had been involved in international football this past week, some for 90 minutes and longer.

Taylor seemed to have that in mind on the other side of half-time when he brought on Hayley Raso for Kelly, livening up the attack in the hopes that West Ham’s continued attempts to adopt and maintain a high press would tire again, and with that would come more goals. The promise was fulfilled in the 66th minute via Lauren Hemp, who scored her 50th club goal, City’s third. Stealing possession from Lucy Parker, the winger weaved her way into the box and then fired a low shot past Arnold into the bottom-rightcorner.

The West Ham keeper had faced three shots and had picked the ball out of her net each time. The introduction of Georgia Stanway, who had scored six times and assisted twice in eight appearances against the hosts, must not have been a welcome sight.

Moving the Goalposts
Moving the Goalposts Illustration: Guardian Design

Khadija Shaw joined Stanway on the pitch, while West Ham bolstered their defense by bringing on Emma Snerle. It mattered little, as Taylor brought about more changes and his side responded by pushing the opposition defense further and further into their own defensive third until Hemp was able to find a gap and score City’s fourth.

Though West Ham had approached the game with the appropriate verve they were out-thought and unable to keep up with White and Kelly as they led their team to a 17th win in 19 games in all competitions.

The focus now turns on Arsenal and Chelsea to see who City will be playing in the final at Wembley on 15 May.

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