MATCH REPORT: Liverpool Ladies 2 – 1 Birmingham City

 After back-to-back defeats in March, Liverpool Ladies returned to winning ways earlier this evening with a convincing 2-1 win over Birmingham City.

 The first 3 points of the Reds season were confirmed with goals either side of half-time from the excellent Asisat Oshoala and Fara Williams, Birmingham pulled a goal back through Aoife Mannion but Liverpool saw out the win with ease.

 Matt Beard made 3 changes to his starting line-up from last week’s defeat to Sunderland, Becky Easton returning to the starting 11 but in an unfamiliar position; playing defensive midfield in front of the back 4 of Martha Harris, Satara Murray, Gemma Bonner and Corina Schroder.

 Liverpool looked to be playing a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Asisat Oshoala and Line Smorsgard switching between the right and left wings and Kate Longhurst and Fara Williams in the middle behind Natasha Dowie.

 From kick off the changes to the team and formation looked positive, Martha Harris had played at left wing back the preview week and found her opportunities getting forward limited. Tonight that was not the case as she constantly marauded up the pitch from right back, getting involved with the Liverpool attack. The first chance of the game coming after just 3 minutes with Harris passing to Kate Longhurst at the corner of the 18-yard box, Longhurst had her back to goal but set the ball into the path of Fara Williams who’s first time strike was blocked.

 The introduction of Becky Easton in the middle was also a great addition to the midfield, in the previous game against Birmingham in The FA Cup the Blues midfield had swamped the centre of the park, making it difficult for Liverpool to get their passing game going. With Easton clearing up in front of the back 4 and Williams and Longhurst ahead of her this was not the case during the league tie, the trio first to every ball and winning possession at each turn.

 One Birmingham player who proved to be frustrated by the Reds control of the midfield was Remi Allen, Allen had netted a penalty during her sides 3-1 cup win last weekend but seemed to be trying her hardest to take out as many Liverpool players as she could during this evenings game. Easton was the first player to be on the receiving end of this, cutting her face on the turf pitch in the process. During the rest of the game Allen gave away a number of free kicks, somehow avoiding picking up a yellow card until the 90th minute for a challenge on Kate Longhurst – more on that later.

 Liverpool looked better all round, creating chances and defending well. Fara Williams looked to be relishing her advanced position on the pitch, making runs and pinging the ball about, almost setting Natasha Dowie through on goal with an attempted lob over the back 4 – the defender making it back in time. Williams also seen a free kick from 25-yards out go narrowly wide of the post.

 All of Liverpool’s attacking play seemed to go through Asisat Oshoala, the winter signing wreaking havoc in the Birmingham half, winning the ball back, making mazy runs and tidy flicks onto her fellow attacking players. The aforementioned Williams free kick was won after Oshoala had ran practically from the halfway line to the edge of the box, fouled before she could get a shot in. The Nigerian striker also seen a strike go wide after being set up by Natasha Dowie and was part of some nice build up play from the Reds which seen Line Smorsgard eventually dispossessed in the 6-yard box.

 The breakthrough almost came on 30 minutes, Kate Longhurst with a great strike however seeing the goal ruled out for an apparent foul in the build up. It was the second time in successive seasons that Longhurst has unfortunately had a goal disallowed, her disallowed strike against Manchester City in 2014’s opening game still questionable. Shortly after Birmingham almost took the lead themselves, Libby Stout off her line to take a free kick 30 yards from goal, this falling to Jo Potter who attempted to score from the halfway line – the shot going wide.

 Oshoala and Liverpool were rewarded for their efforts right on the stroke of half-time, Gemma Bonner in an advanced position on the right wing and swinging a cross in that landed at the feet of Oshoala coming in at the 6-yard box. Oshoala volleyed the ball with perfect execution to put Liverpool in the lead and for her first goal in the FA Women’s Super League.

 HT Liverpool Ladies 1 – 0 Birmingham City Ladies

 Both sides emerged from the break unchanged in personnel, Birmingham however seemingly adopting a new sense of urgency and sending long balls into the Liverpool half. Twice Libby Stout was called into action, coming out in a crowded penalty area to punch away –  both times finding Line Smorsgard lurking to attempt to break.

 When Kate Longhurst was fouled on the halfway line by, surprise, Remi Allen, Gemma Bonner’s free kick was almost converted by Smorsgard. With her shot blocked the ball met Oshoala inside the box, not falling to her kindly leading to Birmingham being able to clear their lines. Smorsgard looked her sharpest yet for the Reds and was replaced with 20 minutes to play by Nicole Rolser.

 Shortly after the substitution, Oshoala found herself in space on the right of the area, crossing the ball low into the oncoming Fara Williams who smashed the ball into the back of the net to double Liverpool’s lead. The goal is Williams’ 3rd against Birmingham in the last 3 league meetings between the sides, Williams netted the equaliser in the 1-1 here last season and then scored an audacious winner in the away tie in 2014 – chipping the keeper from the halfway line.

 2-0 up and pressing for more goals, Williams swung a free kick into the box from the right. Her initial cross blocked but back in towards the head of Gemma Bonner for Becky Spencer to pull off a good save, diving well to her left to deny the Liverpool captain.

 Birmingham pulled a goal back after Martha Harris and Libby Stout both thought to have seen the ball safely out for a goal kick, the referee gave nothing and Blues centre back Aoife Mannion impressively scored from a tight angle to make the score 2-1.

 Lucy Staniforth came on late in the second half for goal scorer and creator Asisat Oshoala, Staniforth with a lovely turn away from a Birmingham midfielder, playing the ball forward to Nicole Rolser who herself turned to pass to Natasha Dowie but the Reds no.9 was crowded out on the edge of the box and Birmingham cleared.

 What should have been a great night for Liverpool was marred slightly by an incident in the 90th minute, Kate Longhurst being knocked unconscious by a challenge from Remi Allen and requiring extended treatment on the pitch. Hannah Dale came on for the injured Longhurst, who needed to be stretchered off. Longhurst has since confirmed on twitter that she is “absolutely fine, just had a nap on the pitch and got a little bump.”

 XI Stout, Harris, Murray, Bonner (C), Schroder, Easton, Smorsgard, Williams, Longhurst, Oshoala, Dowie

 POTM Asisat Oshoala

 The season now takes a short break while international games take place, next Thurday Gemma Bonner, Nastasha Dowie and Fara Williams will each be involved in England’s final friendly before this summer’s World Cup. The friendly against China is at Manchester City’s 7,000 seater Academy Stadium and tickets are still available. Wales also have two games against Slovakia in Bangor, Reds defender Emilie Revitt could be in line to make her first senior appearance for her country.

 Liverpool Ladies are next in action on Sunday 19th April with an away trip to Chelsea Ladies FC.

 @LFCladiesfans

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