MATCH PREVIEW: Liverpool Ladies v Sunderland Ladies

 On Wednesday 25th March Liverpool Ladies begin the defence of their Women’s Super League title, going for 3 in a row after winning the league in 2013 and 2014. First up for Liverpool are league newcomers Sunderland Ladies, promoted from the second division on the final day of their season.
 The game will kick off at 7:45pm, Select Stadium, Widnes. Tickets are available on the gate for £5 adults, £2.50 concessions with free entry for Anfield season ticket holders and also live on BT Sport for those who cannot make it. 
Champions 2014
 Liverpool Ladies go into this game just days after an FA Cup exit away to Birmingham City, the Reds travelled to the midlands club for arguably the hardest of the fifth round ties. For a full in-depth look at the game, read my match report on The Anfield Wrap
 Despite the defeat it is important to look at the positives Liverpool’s first competitive game of 2015 can show us, Natasha Dowie looked sharp and took her goal well from a Corina Schroder cross after Line Smorsgard had beaten her marker well at the corner flag. Dowie’s goal came as Liverpool enjoyed perhaps their brightest period of the game, reignited after going one-nil down and drawing the scores level before an excellent free kick from Jo Potter put Birmingham back ahead.
 Becky Easton was once again tough in the tackle at the back, with countless crunching sliding challenges and seemingly appearing from nowhere on a couple of occasions, getting back across the back line to snuff out the Blues attack.
 Reds No.1 Libby Stout also looked confident at the back, claiming a trio of second-half free-kicks with ease and attempting each time to set the Liverpool attack back on the offensive. Stout was unlucky to concede a last-minute penalty, diving the right way and getting a hand to Remi Allen’s spot kick however the Birmingham midfielder converted to make the score 3-1 and confirm their place in the next round. 
 In regards to Wednesday’s opposition Sunderland Ladies, the two sides faced off twice last season with Liverpool running out winners in both games. First an FA Cup victory away in which Martha Harris and Natasha Dowie scored either side of half-time and then in the Continental Cup where Sunderland were without first choice keeper Rachael Laws and crashed to a 6-0 defeat. Dowie netted a hat trick, Gemma Davison scored her first goal in a red shirt with Corina Schroder and Katrin Omarsdottir completing the rout.
 Omarsdottir was missing during Sunday’s cup game, injury presumably ruling her out alongside Ashley Hodson. Lucy Staniforth however is edging ever closer to her first competitive appearance in almost 2 years after playing 20 minutes during the development squad’s 1-0 defeat away at Birmingham at the weekend. 
Lucy Staniforth during pre-season
 For the view from the opposition I spoke to Sunderland supporter Katie Hume, who talks us through how the Black Cats pre-season went, their key players and her score prediction for the game.
 Q Sunderland Ladies were promoted on the final day of the WSL2 season, how much are you looking forward to your first season of top flight football?
 A I’m really looking forward to finally seeing Sunderland play top flight football, over the last few years we’ve been known for producing top class players such as Jill Scott, Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze and of course Liverpool’s Lucy Staniforth to name just a few. I think it’s brilliant for the club to be finally playing alongside the big names in women’s football. 
 Q Sunderland have played a fair few pre-season games [most recently beating Durham WFC 3-1], how have they gone? They also exited The FA Cup in the 4th round, will that mean they can concentrate more on preparing for the league campaign?
 A It’s the first season in charge for [new manager] Carlton Fairweather as Mick Mulhurn stepped down after many successful years at the club, so pre-season has been incredibly important for the team to adjust to Fairweather’s playing style. The exit from The FA Cup was hard to take with a last minute winner from Aston Villa, but I think it has allowed us to focus more on our opening league games.
 Q What are your realistic expectations for the season, are you feeling confident?
 A If we learnt anything from the WSL1 last season it’s how unpredictable the league can be, I think everyone out there should be playing to win it. Our first 2 games will be difficult, with Liverpool away then Manchester City at home a week later; if we can take points from those games it will be a good push for us. Realistically I believe we could have the ability to finish mid-table.
 Q Who are your 3 key players to look out for? With the exception of Rachael Laws, who Liverpool supporters will remember fondly from her role in the club’s first league title, keeping a clean sheet on the final day of the season for the Reds to lift the trophy.
Sunderland No.1, former Reds stopper Rachael Laws
 A Anyone who watched the U20 World Cup last year will recognise the name Beth Mead for her amazing goal against Mexico. Beth scored 13 goals in WSL2 last season, finishing as the league’s second highest scorer and showing just how dangerous she is in front of goal; she’s a player we’ll be hearing a lot about in the coming years. A second key player for us is Keira Ramshaw, she was brilliant for us throughout last season, racking up a number of important goals and assists and I’m excited to see what she can do in WSL1. We’ve been quiet in the transfer window however recently signed Brooke Chaplen, a free agent following her departure from the relegated Everton Ladies, a lot of Liverpool fans will be familiar with her and hopefully she’ll make her debut on Wednesday night. Along with Laws she will bring experience of WSL1 into the team.
 Q Finally, what is your score prediction for the game?
 A After seeing both teams play in pre-season, I think this will be a close game. I’m hoping we just edge it so I’m going with 2-1 to Sunderland – with goals from Ramshaw, Mead and Staniforth (#StanWatch).
 The game promises to be an exciting start to a new WSL season, with the league looking more competitive yet again this year there is no better time to start following Liverpool Ladies.
 Updates will be provided on Twitter for those who can’t make the game or watch on BT Sport via @LFCladiesfans.

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