MATCH REPORT: Liverpool Ladies 1 – 1 Doncaster Belles

 Liverpool Ladies drew 1-1 with Doncaster Belles in their final pre-season friendly earlier tonight. Gemma Bonner opened the scoring after coming on at half-time, Doncaster grabbed their equaliser during the final 10 minutes.

 The final 10 minutes of the game also seen reds midfielder Lucy Staniforth make a welcome return from injury, the last time Lucy played was February during last years pre-season and it was great to see her back on the pitch.

 Natasha Dowie led the line for Liverpool, captaining the side with Gemma Bonner starting on the bench. Ashley Hodson played to Dowie’s right with Line Smorsgard on the left and Asisat Oshoala behind her. Hannah Dale started her second game in a row for the reds, alongside Katie Zelem in midfield, in front the back four of Ingrid Ryland, Satara Murray, Becky Easton and Corina Schroder with Libby Stout in goal.

 Most of Liverpool’s attacking play in the first-half went down the left side of the pitch with Corina Schroder working well with Line Smorsgard, the latter really beginning to stand out and create opportunities going forward. Asisat Oshoala was also a bright spark throughout, battling to win the ball back and running the midfield.

 During 2013 Liverpool won countless free kicks due to Nicole Rolser drawing plenty of fouls, Smorsgard was the same this evening – winning an early free kick – while the Norwegian was also putting good crosses into the box.

 The best chance of the first-half fell to Natasha Dowie; Liverpool had quickly countered after Becky Easton had blocked a Doncaster cross at the other end, Libby Stout saving the corner and playing the ball out to Smorsgard who passed to Ashley Hodson. With the ball up in the final third, Oshoala won possession back, sending the ball out wide to Smorsgard who swung a cross in but Dowie just couldn’t connect right with it.

 Dowie also had a chance on the stroke of half-time after a good run and strike from the edge of the 18-yard box, the Doncaster defender getting across in time to block.

 Doncaster attempted to breach the reds backline on a number of occasions, Hannah Dale matching one run and doing just enough to put the striker off their strike, her midfield partner Katie Zelem was also back to defend well on occasion.

 Becky Easton started at centre back and won every header, while Satara Murray read play well during the first 45 minutes – twice beating the striker to the ball with ease, turning and carrying the ball away from danger.

 Asisat Oshoala looks better as each game goes on, a real catalyst in the reds attack. Oshoala battled her way past 3 Donny players before being dispossessed early on, then linked well with Dowie, playing a quick one-two and receiving the ball back well only to see her shot blocked. Oshoala also seen another shot saved after chesting the ball down at the corner of the box and turning to shoot first time.

 Despite chances for both sides, the game remained goalless at the break.

 Out for the second half, Matt Beard made 4 changes to his Liverpool side. Danielle Gibbons came in for Libby Stout and would produce a wonderful fingertips save to push a goal bound strike over the crossbar. Gemma Bonner also took to the pitch, replacing Ingrid Ryland with Bonner partnering Murray in the centre defence and Becky Easton moving out to right-back. Fara Williams came on for Hannah Dale in a straight swap and Kate Longhurst on for Ashley Hodson.

 Liverpool looked brighter during the opening stages of the second half, Kate Longhurst has enjoyed a brilliant pre-season and looked sharp attacking down the right. Longhurst first came into the action with a good cross in from the right, this was cleared just before it could reach Katie Zelem and Smorsgard couldn’t quite get there for the rebound. Next Longhurst cut into the box herself, beating two players and shooting with her left foot but the keeper dived to save.

 With Fara Williams in midfield the reds also looked a bit more composed, Williams cleaning up in defence after one early Donny attack.

 Liverpool took the lead around the 60-minute mark, Oshoala winning the corner, Williams swinging it in. A scramble in the box ensued with Dowie almost scoring from the same place she scored her winner against Everton last week, Gemma Bonner was the player to finally poke the ball over the line, scoring her first goal of 2015 just days after winning the Cyprus Cup with England.

 Martha Harris came on for Becky Easton shortly after the goal, looking sharp with a couple of good runs and constantly looking to get forward and assist the attack – against her Dad’s club as well!

 Then came the moment Liverpool supporters had waited 55 weeks, 385 days, 9240 hours, 33,264,000 seconds* for: the return of Lucy Staniforth from injury. Staniforth had last appeared for Liverpool in 2014 pre-season during the win over Yeovil and it was fantastic to see her take back to the pitch in the red of Liverpool.

 Staniforth was immediately in the action, first on the left and then switching to the right and playing an excellent through ball to Oshoala, Oshoala found Zelem but Fara Williams couldn’t convert the cross.

 Gemma Bonner almost added a second from another corner, her header on target but saved by ex-Everton keeper Danielle Hill.

 Doncaster Belles pulled a goal back after a mixup in the Liverpool defence and the game played out to a 1-1 draw.

 XI Stout (Gibbons), Ryland (Bonner), Murray, Easton (Harris), Schroder, Dale (Williams), Zelem, Oshoala, Smorsgard (Staniforth), Hodson (Longhurst), Dowie (C)

 POTM Lucy Staniforth

 Next up for Liverpool, Matt Beard’s side are back in competitive action with a tough FA Cup tie away at Birmingham City next Sunday 22nd March. There will be a preview on the blog later in the week for this game.

 *approximate figures

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