Goals from Gemma Davison and Natasha Dowie ensured Liverpool Ladies Champions League campaign got off to a winning start earlier tonight against Swedish side Linkopings FC.
Matt Beard made just the two changes to the starting 11, with Gemma Davison coming in from Katrin Omarsdottir and Katie Zelem in for Becky Easton.
Linkoping, like Liverpool, are currently playing out their final few league fixtures battling for 2nd place and Champions League football next season. They won the Swedish cup earlier this year and beat current league champions Rosengard in the league.
It was the Swedes who looked dangerous during the opening stages of the game, earning an early corner which Katie Zelem headed clear. Linkoping sent the ball back into the box, Pernille Harder bringing it in from the left but despite a few passes the Swedes were unable to find the back of the net and Corina Schroder cleared.
Under attack the Liverpool defence stood strong, with Gemma Bonner making a crucial sliding challenge and Martha Harris also clearing well.
Schroder was soon involved at the other end of the pitch, brilliant movement from Zelem in the centre of the pitch to create space and get a pass out to Schroder on the left. The German left-back was dispossessed, winning a throw-in from which Fara Williams almost opened the scoring – the keeper only just got there to punch out for a corner.
Williams took the resulting corner short to Lucy Bronze, who’s ball back towards goal found Gemma Davison and the no.10 scored Liverpool’s first-ever Champions League goal from the edge of the 18-yard box and put the reds ahead.
1-0 up and searching for a second, Fara Williams seen a free-kick saved – Linkoping breaking and hitting the reds on the counter, Libby Stout doing fantastically well one-on-one to get down and save with her foot.
Liverpool were pressing their opponents well, at one point pushing them right back into their own half before Amanda DaCosta won possession in midfield and passed to Schroder out wide, her cross found Natasha Dowie on the edge of the box but the reds striker had two defenders on her and couldn’t get a shot in.
Minutes before half-time and against the run of play, Linkoping equalised with a crucial away goal – Kristine Minde getting past the reds defence and slotting the ball past Stout into the bottom corner. Minde did look to be offside as the ball was played, however the lineswoman kept her flag down.
The teams went in level at half-time, out for the second 45 and both teams were pushing to go ahead. Evenly matched in terms of quality within the two sides, the game was a great watch for any neutral supporters in attendance.
DaCosta was impressive throughout the 90 minutes, surging runs through midfield and a number of excellent passes – one picking out the run of Davison on the right wing but the ball eventually ran out for a goal kick.
Katrin Omarsdottir replaced Katie Zelem and Nicole Rolser came on for Martha Harris with around 30 minutes remaining. Rolser made an immediate impact on her return from injury against Arsenal at the weekend and almost did the same here, a strong run down the right wing and a thundering strike that crashed off the crossbar.
Revitalised by the substitutions Liverpool continued to threaten the Linkoping defence; Lucy Bronze showed great composure in the penalty area and stayed well on her feet to cross the ball to Natasha Dowie who made no mistakes from inside the 6-yard box and put Liverpool back in the lead.
Minutes after scoring Dowie was replaced by Kate Longhurst, who almost gave the reds a 2-goal cushion after Bronze and Davison combined well on the right wing to put a great ball into Liverpool’s no.7 – her shot was saved.
It was to be a tense end to the game, Longhurst blocked a shot up at the other end before a terrible challenge on DaCosta should probably have seen a red card as Liverpool seen out the debut victory.
XI: Stout, Bronze, Bonner (C), Frausing, Schroder, Harris (Rolser), Williams (Katrin), Zelem, DaCosta, Davison, Dowie (Longhurst)
POTM: Lucy Bronze – a crucial part in both Liverpool goals, a mention must also go to Amanda DaCosta who’s work ethic in the centre of midfield was second to none.
Liverpool take the win into next week’s away leg in Linkoping, leading 2-1 on aggregate.
I will be at the game in Sweden and I am hoping to be tweeting updates from the match, keep an eye out of twitter for any news!
Thanks for reading!