Top 10 LFC Ladies Highlights of 2014

 Another year, another league title for Matt Beard’s Liverpool Ladies! In this blog I count down 10 2014 highlights, from Libby Stout’s goalkeeping heroics all the way through to the unbelieveable final day of the season when Liverpool retained their WSL title against all odds.
 Narrowly missing out on a place in the top 10: the host of first-team players extending their contracts with Liverpool into a 3rd year, Katie Zelem scoring the winning goal against Notts County with her first touch and the hard-fought win over Manchester City on the opening day of the season.
 On twitter the majority of fans picked out Lucy Bronze’s goal against Chelsea as their highlight, below you can see a video of the quick one-two on the edge of the 18-yard box with Gemma Davison before Bronze smashes the ball into the back of the net. Followers of Liverpool Ladies Fans on Twitter and Facebook also voted the now departed Bronze their Player of the Season, read more about her season and an interview I did with her here.

Libby Stout’s goalkeeping heroics

credit: GirlsontheBall

 At the end of 2013 both Sarah Quantrill and Rachael Laws departed Liverpool for Millwall and Sunderland respectively, paving the way for new arrival Libby Stout. The American keeper settled quickly on Merseyside, her competitive debut away at Sunderland in The FA Cup setting the tone for her season with a highly impressive top corner save on the stroke of half-time.
 Since her arrival Stout has continuously produced top class performances for the reds, keeping Liverpool in games with a fighting chance – Manchester City at home in the league, the 3-3 Arsenal draw and Linkoping away all spring to mind as ties in which Liverpool’s no.1 provided save after save.
 Libby also kept 9 clean sheets in her 18 appearances and has built a reputation as one of the leagues best goalkeepers, commanding her back line well and fearlessly coming out to clear the ball.

Becky Easton’s crunching tackles

credit: Drew Smith Photography
 Becky Easton was voted by followers of this blog Player of the Season at the midway stage of the campaign and picked up the most votes in the official Liverpool end of season awards to be crowned Supporter’s Player of the Year, an award thoroughly deserved as the defender produced her best season yet in the red of Liverpool.
 To quote a voter from the mid-season review, Easton is “hard, passionate and scouse” and is a firm favourite amongst supporters due to her unrivalled determination to commit to tackles. Becky’s performance of the year came in the 3-3  draw away at Arsenal, Liverpool came under heavy attack from the Gunners front line and Easton’s resilience in defence meant the tie went all the way to the final whistle for the reds to pick up a much-need point in their hunt for the title.

Natasha Dowie’s Sunderland hat-trick

 Going into the Continental Cup game against Sunderland Ladies, Liverpool had failed to score in 3 games including the heartbreaking 2-0 FA Cup exit to Everton. Step forward Natasha Dowie, who produced a stunning hat-trick in the 6-0 win.
 The first goal was a neat flick at the near post from a Fara Williams corner, minutes later Dowie doubled her tally with expert control at the edge of the 18-yard box before turning and smashing the ball past the hapless keeper. Completing her hat-trick in the second-half with another perfect finish (and the third assist from Williams), Dowie latched on to the forward pass and finished with ease with just one touch.
 Liverpool announced last week that their no.9 and top scorer for the past 2 seasons had signed a contract extension and will be once again scoring goals in a red shirt in 2015.

Kate Longhurst’s derby winner

 In the 2 previous derbies in 2014, Liverpool had failed to score. The aforementioned FA Cup exit was followed by a 0-0 draw just days later in the Continental Cup despite a much more dominant performance from the reds.
 July’s derby seen Kate Longhurst immortalise herself at Liverpool by scoring the winning and only goal as the team picked up an important league victory.
 Corina Schroder crossed the ball low from the left wing to the waiting Natasha Dowie on the edge of the area, Dowie pulled it back for Longhurst to hit it first time past Rachael Brown-Finnis in the Everton goal.

Fara Williams’ winner away at Birmingham City

 Having just conceded a late equaliser away at Birmingham City, Liverpool quickly reset themselves up for the restart with Gemma Bonner pulling a dejected Libby Stout up from the floor.
 The despair was to be short lived, less than 30 seconds to be exact, as Fara Williams somehow lobbed the ball over Becky Spencer from the halfway line.
 Watch the video of the goal above!

Gemma Davison’s Arsenal equaliser 
& Nicole Rolser’s return from injury 
 2-0 down within 10 minutes and 3-1 down shortly into the second half, Liverpool were 3-2 down and looked to have conceded their title as their penultimate game of the season ticked into the final minute of injury time. Cue a mazy Gemma Davison run culminating with a low finish under Arsenal keeper Emma Byrne. Liverpool supporters who had made the trip went crazy in the stands, Davison’s equaliser giving the reds the slimmest of hopes going into the final day the following weekend at home to Bristol Academy.
 The day was also a highlight as it marked the return of Nicole Rolser, a player who was hugely missed throughout the 2014 season. Rolser bagged Liverpool’s second goal on the afternoon after coming on as a substitute and has since been building up her playing time with the Development Squad, she will be like a new signing come the start of the 2015 campaign.

Liverpool Ladies making their Champions League debut
 Liverpool Football Club have a long, decorated history in European competition and Liverpool Ladies became part of that as they made their Champions League debut in October 2014.
 Entering at the round of 32, Liverpool faced Swedish cup winners Linkopings FC. The 2 sides were well-matched and the opening game at home displayed some of the best football the reds played all year as they attacked and defended well in equal measure. Liverpool went ahead through Gemma Davison, Linkoping equalised before Natasha Dowie scored the winner to give the reds a debut win.
 Unfortunately the second leg a week later was to be Liverpool’s 4 game in 10 days and ultimately proved to be a step too far as they left the competition losing 4-2 on aggregate.
 It was however fantastic to see Liverpool play in Europe and next year they will be experienced as they enter the competition for a second time.

The Development Squad’s unbeaten start to their 2014/15 season
credit: @kopchick71
  Ahead of the 2014/15 WSL Development season Liverpool Ladies appointed FA Youth Cup winning coach Matty Campbell at the helm of the team, with a number of players making the step up from the U17s to the reserves.
 Since the opening day Campbell has overseen a run of 11 wins, including a wholly impressive 4-2 friendly victory over a Blackburn Rovers team that contained former Manchester City and Liverpool first team players.
 In the 10 competitive wins Liverpool have scored 47 goals, averaged 4.7 per game during a run that has seen a 10-0 thrashing of Durham WFC and a dominant 6-1 win away at Aston Villa.
 Ashley Hodson was voted by followers of this blog as Development Player of the Season so far, the young striker has steadily improved her overall game over the course of the last year and has netted 14 goals in her 7 appearances, with 4 hat-tricks.

Liverpool Ladies U17s win The FA Youth Cup
 In June Liverpool Ladies picked up their first silverware of the year as the U17s beat Everton Ladies in The FA Youth Cup final at MK Dons.
 The final was well-contested with both sides featuring quality young players; Liverpool’s centre back pairing of Olivia Fuller and Rachel Robinson providing solid cover for goalkeeper Rachel Darbyshire, who produced a confident display between the posts – particularly during the tense closing stages as Everton pressed for an equaliser.
 Liverpool were also impressive going forward, a midfield featuring Summer Smith provided the foundations for the formidable forward quartet of Blue Pendlebury, Kess Elmore, Mollie Green and Jess Davenport with support from attacking left-back Maz Pacheco.
 It was Elmore who grabbed the winner, keeping her composure to finish low past the keeper, giving Liverpool the 1-0 win for captain Fuller to lift the cup in front of the large crowd.

Winning the league
 Going into the final day of the season in 3rd place, the pressure was off Liverpool Ladies as the title looked to be Chelsea’s to lose. During the first half and at half-time news filtered through that both Liverpool title contenders were losing, with the reds game somehow still goalless.
 In the second half Liverpool upped their game, attacking now with more incision and intent, Natasha Dowie netted her 10th strike of the season to open the scoring, Lucy Bronze added a second and Dowie won a penalty which Fara Williams duly converted for the game to finish 3-0.
 Liverpool had done all they could and then came the agonising wait for both the Chelsea and Birmingham games to end – a goal in either would have taken the trophy back away from Merseyside.
 After what felt an eternity but in reality was just a couple of minutes, the news was confirmed – against all odds and following a campaign plagued by injury Matt Beard had once again guided Liverpool into first place and they were crowned Champions of the Women’s Super League for the second successive year.
 Happy New Year everyone, see you in 2015! 

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