In the opening game of the FA Women’s Super League reigning champions Liverpool Ladies suffered a 2-1 home defeats at the hands of newly promoted Sunderland Ladies.
Sunderland took a 1-0 lead in at half-time and doubled this when debutant Brooke Chaplen netted from the penalty spot, Satara Murray pulled one back for the Reds and Natasha Dowie hit the crossbar, but it was Sunderland who left with the crucial first 3 points on the table.
Matt Beard made four changes to his Liverpool side from the Birmingham cup exit at the weekend, most notably bringing in both Martha Harris and Ingrid Ryland to play as wing backs with Corina Schroder moving alongside Satara Murray and captain Gemma Bonner in defence ahead of Libby Stout between the posts. Fara Williams, Asisat Oshoala and Natasha Dowie also retained their places, with Nicole Rolser coming in to play alongside Dowie and Katie Zelem also getting the nod in midfield.
Sunderland Ladies kicked off, immediately hitting a long ball forward which fell to the feet of Libby Stout. Stout passed the ball out from defence, however as Corina Schroder tried to pick out Nicole Rolser with a long ball out her own the pass was intercepted and sent out for a Sunderland throw.
It was the visitors who looked the brighter of the two teams during the opening stages, Sunderland’s England U23 international Beth Mead looking a constant threat, linking well with Keira Ramshaw on the right wing with a couple of nice touches out wide and then racing into the 18-yard box to wait for the cross. Later Mead skipped past Schroder, but her international team mate Martha Harris was wise to this and came from behind to tap the ball to Satara Murray.
The two Reds combined also combined when full-back Abby Holmes broke into the Liverpool box, Murray dispossessing her on the touchline and Harris clearing.
Liverpool’s first chance of the game came when Asisat Oshoala picked up on a loose ball in front of the Sunderland defence, cutting it back into the path of the incoming Fara Williams who shot first time but her drive trickled wide of the post. 5 minutes later Nicole Rolser almost managed to capitalise on a mix-up between the two centre-backs, her first touch a little heavy and Sunderland keeper Rachael Laws (league title winner with Liverpool in 2013) reacting quickly – Rolser ran into traffic, passing back to Ingrid Ryland who had made a forward run but the Norwegian could only shoot wide.
Rolser almost went through on goal again when Liverpool were quick to counter following a Sunderland free kick, Schroder blocking the ball forward and Fara Williams carrying it out and attempting to pick out the run of Rolser. Her run was well-matched by the defender and the ball fell to Laws.
Sunderland enjoyed a good spell midway through the first half, a couple of balls in from the left and a long-range strike from captain Steph Bannon. The Black Cats pressing meant that Liverpool’s wing backs were struggling to get forwards, more often being needed to help out at the back.
The breakthrough came on 27 minutes, Keira Ramshaw whipping a cross in from the right which drifted past Liverpool’s back line and fell to the head of Beth Mead at the far post. Mead heading over the line to score the opening goal of the game and of the 2015 FAWSL season.
Following the goal Liverpool appeared to press higher up the pitch, putting a number of balls into the box; first Corina Schroder’s cross was cleared before it could reach the head of Oshoala, then Gemma Bonner’s long ball forward for Natasha Dowie to chase was shielded out for a goal kick by Abby Holmes. Bonner put another good ball in moments later with Ingrid Ryland pressing forward and passing on to Dowie, out wide to Rolser and back to Bonner – her first time ball meeting Oshoala on the edge of the 6-yard box but she couldn’t get the right touch on it and the strike went over the crossbar.
Oshoala had become more involved as the game drew on, shortly before half-time losing possession in midfield but chasing it back all the way to the corner flag, winning back the ball without fouling and playing it out.
HT – Liverpool Ladies 0 – 1 Sunderland Ladies
Neither side made any changes at the break, with Liverpool emerging for the second half looking to test Sunderland’s resistance. Ingrid Ryland enjoyed a stellar half, getting herself far forward on the right and doing well on occasion to keep the ball in play, strongly holding off the Sunderland full back and earning a corner from which Oshoala headed wide. Ryland then swung a terrific ball across the 6-yard box toward fellow wing back Martha Harris, this was also cleared for a corner which despite being bandied about eventually landed in the arms of Rachael Laws.
Liverpool enjoyed the majority of possession during the second half, with Natasha Dowie dropping a little deeper at times to win the ball back in midfield – one interception almost seeing Nicole Rolser go through on goal after Fara Williams spotted her run. Rolser also appeared to go down in the box, nudged from behind just inside the area but nothing was given.
The Reds had a little luck go their way just before the hour mark, a Williams free kick was sent behind by Satara Murray – with the referee giving a corner in Liverpool’s favour. Unfortunately Liverpool couldn’t capitalize on this but they were looking the more likely to score.
Williams superb forward pass picked out Ryland, who eluded the full-back to hit a cross towards goal, Laws collected but the linesman gave a corner, from which Oshoala headed wide. Oshoala also tried her luck from the corner of the 18-yard box, the strike curling towards the near post but caught by Laws.
Matt Beard made a trio of second-half substitutions, Lucy Staniforth on for Oshoala in what was her first competitive appearance in 22 months following two successive ACL injuries. Line Smorsgard also made her league debut, along with 16-year old Mayumi Pacheco who was introduced during the closing stages.
Despite all of Liverpool’s chances and domination in possession, they failed to convert and on minutes Murray was adjudged to have fouled Beth Mead in the penalty area. Former Everton midfielder Brooke Chaplen stepped up to impressively score past Libby Stout from the post, with the second penalty Liverpool have conceded in 2 games.
Liverpool did pull a goal back, Murray scoring on her league debut for the club but despite Natasha Dowie hitting the crossbar with a header and Lucy Staniforth also striking the bar with the rebound, the Reds just couldn’t find an equaliser and the game finished 2-1 to Sunderland Ladies.
XI Stout, Ryland, Bonner (C), Murray, Schroder, Harris, Williams, Zelem, Oshoala, Rolser, Dowie
POTM Nicole Rolser
Liverpool Ladies are next in action Wednesday 1st April, when they welcome Birmingham City Ladies to Select Stadium, Widnes in the league.