Hawa Cissoko sees red as brawl mars West Ham’s WSL victory over Aston Villa

A hard-fought West Ham victory was overshadowed by two red cards in the closing stages as the game descended into chaos. Altercations on and off the pitch led to the visitors’ Hawa Cissoko being sent off for violent conduct and their manager, Paul Konchesky, also being dismissed for his part in a touchline melee.

Tensions had been brewing throughout as the visitors resisted wave after wave of Aston Villa attacks, having raced into an early two-goal lead. The ill-feeling finally erupted in the 91st minute as Sarah Mayling and Cissoko came together in a shoving match. The red mist descended over the French defender as she struck Mayling around the face, leaving the referee, Cheryl Foster, with no choice but to dismiss her. The arguments spread to the dugouts as Mayling was involved in a further confrontation with Villa’s backroom staff and the flashpoint ended with Konchesky also being sent down the tunnel.

Carla Ward, Konchesky’s Villa counterpart, was shocked by what she saw. “I’ve never seen anything like that in the game”, she said. “The punch in the face from Cissoko on Mayling is unacceptable. It shouldn’t be in the game. The melee in the dugout is not OK.”

The West Ham manager saw things differently. “I’m not sure what happened really on the pitch. I did see Hawa raise her hands, but I saw the opponent raise her hands as well. She stays on the pitch and Hawa gets sent off.

“As Hawa went down the tunnel, some of their staff were saying stuff to my players which I don’t respect. Me and my staff will obviously stick up for my players and I think that’s why you see [that].”

It was an incident that threatened to damage the impressive work his players had put in against a buoyant Villa side. The hosts had enjoyed an unbeaten start to the season, their eye-catching performances earning them high praise. West Ham, however, arrived full of intent to disrupt them. Konchesky’s side are tough to break down partnered with a dangerous attacking threat.

They enjoyed a swashbuckling start as they pressed high and found themselves ahead within two minutes. A Kirsty Smith corner was met by the aerially dominant Dagný Brynjarsdóttir at the near post.

Their second came shortly after – a sublime counterattack finished off by the Japan international Honoka Hayashi from inside the area. It was clinical – two shots, two goals – and sent shockwaves through the home side.

With a comfortable lead, West Ham were quite happy to absorb Villa’s pressure. The hosts dominated possession but lacked a cutting edge. Rachel Daly came close while Anna Patten agonisingly hit the post on the stroke of half-time.

West Ham returned after the break knowing that Ward’s side never give up. They came at the Hammers’ defence but found themselves denied at every turn by an inspired Mackenzie Arnold. The West Ham goalkeeper superbly tipped an effort from Kirsty Hanson over the bar before stepping up to save an Alisha Lehmann penalty.

It had been a surprise to see Lehmann take the spot-kick after Daly, the customary penalty taker, was pushed to the ground, not least for Ward who was unable to hide her displeasure. “It’s clear as day”, she said. “Everybody knows Rachel Daly takes penalties. It hasn’t happened. Doesn’t matter why – it’s in house. It can’t happen again. If we say who’s on penalties, they’re on penalties.”

Villa did eventually pull one back when Kenza Dali curled a sweetly struck effort into the top corner. It was the platform Villa needed for an energetic finish, but their momentum was interrupted by a long stoppage to deal with the fallout from Cissoko’s dismissal. West Ham displayed impressive resilience under intense pressure to see the game out and their bench erupted in celebration at the final whistle.

Ward said: “What’s frustrating is, I thought our girls were superb today. They didn’t buy into any of it. They got kicked left, right and centre and they kept going. To be fair, they deserve more from that game.”