Liverpool Ladies fell to a second straight league defeat at Birmingham City earlier today, the Reds beaten by a Karen Carney penalty in the first half.
Matt Beard made just one change from the side that beat Everton Ladies midweek in the Continental Cup, Katie Zelem returning to the starting 11 following time away with England U19s and forming a midfield 3 with Lucy Staniforth and Katrin Omarsdottir. Up front Natasha Dowie led the line accompanied by Rosie White and Line Smorsgard; while in defence Liverpool reverted to a flat back 4 of Becky Easton, Gemma Bonner, Kate Longhurst and Martha Harris with Libby Stout in goal.
Liverpool have been hit hard by injury in recent weeks, with Fara Williams, Asisat Oshoala and Satara Murray all confirmed to be unavailable for up to 2 months. With Murray out, Longhurst has admirably stepped back into defence; the forward in her third season at the club playing in an entirely new position and the no.7 was called into action early in the first half, as Birmingham pressed high up the pitch and looked to put Liverpool under pressure, twice clearing from high balls sent into the 18-yard box.
The only goal of the game came in the 7th minute, the referee awarding the Blues a penalty after adjudging Martha Harris to have handled the ball just inside the area. England international and Birmingham captain Carney stepped up to send the spot kick home, Libby Stout unable to keep it out despite diving the right way.
Birmingham continued to probe down each wing, Melissa Lawley a stand out on the right while Carney attempted to attack from the left; Becky Easton proving tough to beat for the skipper, dispossessing her on several occasions.
Liverpool’s initial foray into the opposition area came after 10 minutes, Lucy Staniforth’s delivery from a set piece good and only just missing the run of Gemma Bonner at the back post, but their finest chances of the first half would come at the midway point.
First, Katrin Omarsdottir won the ball deep inside the Reds half and clipped it back to Bonner who played a pass forward to Harris making the run down the left wing. Harris’ cross was picked up by Line Smorsgard who tried to tee up Natasha Dowie but Birmingham’s defence crowded the no.9 out.
Minutes later Liverpool were once again quick to break after regaining possession, this time Longhurst winning the ball back in the Reds box and playing a quick one-two with Harris to run almost the entire length of the pitch – the eventual low cross collected by Becky Spencer in the Birmingham goal before Dowie could reach it.
Towards the end of the half, Birmingham once more began to look the team most likely to score; Zelem blocking Kirsty Linnet’s cross, Bonner clearing a long ball that was sent back in and punched away by Stout – who also denied Lawley, saving her low shot after a mazy run from the halfway line.
Half-time: Birmingham City Ladies 1 – 0 Liverpool Ladies
During the early stages of the second half, Birmingham spurned chances to go 2-0 up. Omarsdottir continuing to frustrate Carney – who shot wide after being put under pressure from the Icelandic. Remi Allen also sent a strike high and wide after picking up on a loose ball when Omarsdottir blocked Linnett’s cross.
Beard made a double substitution, introducing a tactical change as Ingrid Ryland and Ashley Hodson entered the fray in place of Lucy Staniforth and Line Smorsgard. Ryland’s entry seeing a change at the back as Longhurst moved into midfield, Easton to centre back with Ryland on the right.
Hodson had made a difference after coming on as a substitute in the midweek derby and almost impacted the scoreline here shortly after taking to the field; Bonner finding herself battling Linnett in the Blues half, holding the striker off well to get the ball forward to Rosie White at the edge of the box, White’s shot was blocked as far as Hodson who’s first time strike from a narrow angle went over the crossbar.
Up at the other end Stout produced a fantastic save from Jo Potter’s free kick, stretching to tip the set piece out for a corner, which went straight out for a goal kick.
Liverpool continued to work hard prising for an opening with Bonner leading the attack from the back but the Reds just couldn’t find a way to break the stubborn Birmingham defence despite Hodson linking well with Zelem and a further formation change to 3 at the back following the introduction of Corina Schroder in place of Kate Longhurst.
XI Stout, Easton, Bonner (C), Longhurst (Schroder), Harris, Omarsdottir, Zelem, Staniforth (Ryland), White, Smorsgard (Hodson), Dowie
POTM Gemma Bonner
The defeat leaves Liverpool 6th in the league table on 9 points, with 6 league games to play.
Liverpool return to WSL action on Saturday 8th August when they travel to top of the league Sunderland Ladies, before that they face Doncaster Belles away this Thursday 30th July in the Continental Cup.