Liverpool Ladies heartbreakingly crashed out of the Continental Cup semi final tonight to Lincoln Ladies. Sarah Gregorius was handed her first start in a red shirt, replacing Jess Holbrook. Gregorius’ fellow new signing Kate Longhurst was cup tied as was Lincoln’s Lillie Billson, who of course had featured in our campaign in the first half of the season.
Following a 3-0 league defeat at the weekend to Arsenal the reds were determined to bounce back with a win. Natasha Dowie put us a goal up within a minute of kick off, Lucy Bronze with a perfectly weighted pass which outwitted the Lincoln defence setting Dowie up to smash the ball past England number 1 Karen Bardsley.
Louise Fors had switched to the centre of midfield alongside Fara Williams, leaving Nicole Rolser and Sarah Gregorius to interchange on the wings. Rolser was attacking with intent in the first half, linking up well with Natasha Dowie on the left hand side only for that attack to be thwarted. Seconds later the same pair combined, this time with Rolser on the right, but Dowie just missed the cross.
Gemma Bonner had a fantastic game at centre back, blocking Lincoln’s first shot on target before getting herself forward to cross to the lurking Amanda Da Costa in the box but Bardsley was first to the ball.
Lincoln really sat back and invited Liverpool to play, allowing our defence to play a very high line and to get forward to join the attack. Full backs Lucy Bronze and Corina Schroder linked up well for Schroder to shoot straight at the keeper. Whitney Engen also was able to hit a strike at the Lincoln goal from the edge of the box, only for her shot to be blocked.
This was more like the Liverpool we had seen in the first half of the season, Louise Fors was next to have an attempt on goal with a fantastic dipping effort going narrowly over, the ever-lively Amanda Da Costa also forced a save from Bardsley.
Jess Clarke was one of Lincoln’s best player, Whitney Engen managed to limit her chances on goal. Clarke attempted a run into the Liverpool box, Engen shielded the ball from her for Rachel Laws to comfortably collect.
Captain Bonner had to leave the pitch for 5 minutes to have treatment for a head injury with Fara Williams stepping back into defence in her absence. This allowed Engen to go on a completely unchallenged run deep into the Lincoln half, her final pass was too far for Dowie.
Natasha had another chance seconds later following yet another Rolser run but this went just wide of the post. Liverpool somehow went in at half time leading by just a goal.
Back out for the second half Lincoln appeared to be looking to press more and get the ball forward, searching for the equaliser. Once they had this with new signing Courtney Sweetman scoring past Laws, Lincoln seemed content to sit back and wait for penalties.
Undettered Liverpool continued to play an attacking game, Amanda Da Costa with a run this time passing to Williams who couldn’t keep the ball down and put it into the stands.
Chances then at both ends with Sweetman forcing a good save from Laws at close range and Da Costa for us with a low drive that Bardsley dived to save.
Katrin Omarsdottir was brought on by Matt Beard, replacing Sarah Gregorius – Louise Fors moving onto the wing.
With 20 minutes to go of normal time, Liverpool peppered Bardsley goal – who was in inspired form producing a hat trick of saves. First she saved Dowie’s header, then a thundering Williams strike and Louise Fors’ goal bound effort following some silky skills on the edge of the box.
With 5 minutes of normal time to play Halton nearly had cause to celebrate, Fors and Da Costa impressively passing the ball between them to set up Natasha Dowie for a strike that half the stadium thought was in but again Bardsley made the save.
The last play of normal time saw Liverpool throw everyone forward but Schroder for a free kick, Bonner was the player to get on the end of it but her shot sailed over the crossbar.
Onto 30 minutes of extra time then, Liverpool picked up were they left off. A controversial offside decision was given against Natasha Dowie who had found space in the 18 yard box.
Fara Williams was the catalyst of the majority of Liverpool’s attack in extra time with some fine balls into the box, first for Dowie who just couldn’t get her head to the ball then Shroder who was offside.
Player of the match Amanda Da Costa had another goal bound strike saved by Bardsley before Williams seen her long range effort go the wrong side of the post. At this point Lincoln had every player back – at one point every players bar Laws was in the Lincoln half.
With 1 minute to go both Williams and Dowie had strikes saved and we were onto the dreaded penalties.
Louise Fors, Gemma Bonner, Fara Williams and Natasha Dowie all stepped up to take the Liverpool penalties, unsure of who the 5th penalty taker would have been as both Amanda Da Costa and Katrin Omarsdottir seemed to be in the mix.
Lincoln’s Casey Stoney scored first before Williams leveled the score. Remi Allen scored next for the Imps sending Rachel Laws the wrong way. Bardsley then saved Natasha Dowie’s penalty while Lincoln’s Walton missed hers. Bardsley saved again from Louise Fors before Jess Clarke scored making it 3-1 to the Imps. Liverpool Captain Gemma Bonner then stepped up, scoring her penalty for it to go 3-2 and keeping us in the shootout. Carla Cantrell then scored to make it 4-2 to Lincoln and to send us out of the competition.
Liverpool Ladies should not be disheartened by this result, they put on a fantastic fight and it is heartbreaking to be knocked out in this fashion. Best of luck to Lincoln in the final.
Liverpool team: Laws, Bronze, Bonner (C), Engen, Schroder, Williams, Fors, Gregorius (Omarsdottir), Rolser, Da Costa, Dowie
POTM Amanda Da Costa, never stopped running for the full 120 minutes. Close second would be Fara Williams and a special shout out to Lincoln keeper Karen Bardsley for save after save after save!
Thanks for reading and following the match updates this evening – the twitter gained over 50 followers tonight so welcome to anyone new reading this!
Next up for Liverpool we have a top of the table clash away at Bristol Academy. Won’t be at the game but it is on BT Sport so you can expect the usual match preview/ live tweeting/ match report. Thanks again!