MATCH REPORT: MANCHESTER CITY WOMEN 2 – 0 LIVERPOOL LADIES

 Liverpool Ladies were defeated 2-0 at the Academy Stadium by Manchester City Women in their final Continental Cup group game; Toni Duggan scoring a first-half penalty before Isabel Christianson doubled the home side’s lead.
 The Reds had already qualified for the tournament’s quarter-final stage after beating Sunderland Ladies midweek and Matt Beard used this game to rotate his squad, giving minutes to players who haven’t featured much during the second-half of the season.
 There were then 5 changes to the team that beat Sunderland, Lucy Staniforth and Hannah Dale returning to the starting 11 in place of Katrin Omarsdottir and Katie Zelem in midfield, with Becky Easton ahead of the back 4 of Ingrid Ryland, Gemma Bonner, Satara Murray and Mayumi Pacheco – Libby Stout in goal. Natasha Dowie once again led the line supported by Rosie White and Line Smorsgard up front.
 Martha Harris and Ashley Hodson joined Omarsdottir and Zelem amongst the substitutes, however Kate Longhurst was not part of the match day squad.

 The home side started the game strongly, buoyed by an impressive home crowd of 1,890, with Lucy Bronze making powerful runs forward from right-back linking and overlapping with Joey Johnston. Former Liverpool player Bronze being City’s stand out performer during the early stages, one fiercely struck cross skimming the heads of everyone in the box and another well held by Stout.
 For all their possession, City initially couldn’t make it count. A Demi Stokes ball in from the left also trundled safely into the hands of Stout – who also denied Bronze again – and Liverpool almost punished City early on with successive corners.
 The first set piece was won by the in-form Dowie, who had dropped out wide to pick the ball up and won a corner after battling with Jennifer Beattie on the byline. White swung the ball in for Dowie to connect but her touch was deflected out for another, Dowie once again coming into contact after an initial clearance from City was sent back in towards goal by Bonner but the strike went wide of the post.
 Manchester City took the lead midway through the first-half, Murray dispossessed and Nikita Parris breaking into the 18-yard box. Murray got back to challenge Parris however was deemed to have fouled the forward with the referee awarding a penalty and booking the Reds defender. Toni Duggan stepped up to take the spot kick, converting to put her side ahead despite Stout diving the right way.
 Dale and Dowie both seen chances to equalise blocked, Dale’s strike beating Karen Bardsley but taking a deflection from a City defender to go out for a corner and Dowie superbly denied by Bronze after countering and beating both of the centre-backs. The block was to be Bronze’s last contribution of the afternoon as she hurt herself during the process and was replaced by Abbie McManus.
 Liverpool themselves were forced into a substitution before half-time, Easton injuring her arm in a collision with Duggan with Omarsdottir taking her place.
 Having lost Bronze’s influence, City’s attack faltered as the teams emerged for the second-half and Liverpool re-appeared looking revitalised and pressing higher up the pitch. Dale shot over the crossbar from outside the area, then Dowie was unfortunate to be prevented from turning by Steph Houghton after receiving the ball from White and Pacheco’s cross after patient build-up play was deflected into Bardsley’s arms.
 The first City chance of the second-half came as Parris sent a strike wide from a tight angle, Bonner then blocked a low drive out for a corner and the resulting set piece was eventually headed away by White.
 With the momentum of the game seemingly on Liverpool’s side, they were unfortunate to concede a second goal – a back pass to Stout slightly under hit with Christianson lurking, the City midfielder closed down Stout and – with the ball flying up in the air – rounded the Reds keeper and nodded the ball over the line from a yard out.
 Both Zelem and Hodson took to the pitch in the second-half as Liverpool looked to pull a goal back, Zelem immediately involved in the thick of the action and winning a corner that was ultimately headed away by Jill Scott. Hodson’s introduction also began to cause City problems on the right, her pace troubling Stokes.
 Despite the score line Bonner was once more excellent at the back, in the first half stopping Christianson in a sea of shirts at the edge of the box and during the second producing a number of blocks and sliding interceptions to deny City a third.
LIVERPOOL: Stout, Ryland, Bonner ©, Murray, Pacheco, Easton (Omarsdottir), Dale (Zelem), Staniforth, Smorsgard (Hodson), White, Dowie

PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Gemma Bonner

MATCH REPORT: LIVERPOOL LADIES 2 – 0 SUNDERLAND LADIES

 Nastasha Dowie was on the score sheet once again on Wednesday evening as Liverpool Ladies booked their place in the Continental Cup quarter-finals, beating Sunderland Ladies 2-0 in Widnes. Dowie also provided the assist for Katrin Omarsdottir’s 90th minute strike to seal the victory for the Reds.

 Liverpool’s impressive defensive back line remained unchanged, Libby Stout in goal behind Martha Harris, Gemma Bonner, Becky Easton and Mayumi Pacheco – recording their fourth straight clean sheet of the competition. In midfield Omarsdottir came in for Lucy Staniforth, who was sitting this one out through illness, alongside Katie Zelem and Kate Longhurst with Rosie White, Ashley Hodson and Dowie up front.

 The Reds have enjoyed an upturn in form recently and from the opening whistle dominated their visitors, who were not helped by being forced into an early substitution after Vicky Williams collided with her own player and was replaced by Vicky Greenwell.

 Dowie has scored in each of Liverpool’s cup wins so far and was involved in the thick of the action once more; cleverly flicking Harris’ throw to the feet of Zelem, whose low drive from just inside the area was collected at the near post by Hilde Gunn Olsen in the Sunderland goal. The no.9 was then the target for Harris’ probing ball into the 6-yard box, Olsen stretching to tip the ball away minutes before Dowie would head narrowly wide from Bonner’s pinpoint forward pass – this after Pacheco’s cross had been cleared.

 Liverpool continued to pile on the pressure, pressing through the excellent work rate of Longhurst and Hodson and passing the ball around well, never allowing the frustration of being unable to break Sunderland down affect their play; the Reds were also quick on the counter attack, Zelem and White combining, with the latter sending a through ball straight past the centre backs and Zelem chasing but Olsen was wise to the danger and came off her line to halt the run.

 With the score tied at 0-0 despite a high amount of chances for the home side, Sunderland’s Beth Mead appeared to get around the back of the Liverpool defence. Poised to shoot on the 18-yard box, Easton swooped in with a feracious block to deny Mead and send the ball out for a corner – which came to nothing.

 The game somehow remained goalless at half-time despite Dowie hitting the crossbar, White seeing her rebound strike from Zelem’s blocked header cleared off the line and Omarsdottir having a free kick deflected by the wall.

 Sunderland’s chances were few and far between during the first 45 minutes, and defeat here would end their hopes of finishing in the top 2 of the Continental Cup group and automatic qualification for the quarter-finals. So it was no surprise to see them coming out fighting during the second half.

 The introduction of Abbey Joice early in the half gave the Black Cats more of an attacking edge, however twice as Joice squared the ball in towards Brooke Chaplen the former Everton midfielder could only send her shots over the crossbar. Mead also continued to be denied, first by Bonner who blocked a shot and then by Harris who put an end to her run down the left wing and forced Sunderland to retreat.

 As the Liverpool defence stood strong, Dowie and White together won a corner, the resulting set piece swung in by White – who had taken over duties from the sidelined Staniforth – and Dowie heading over the line from 2 yards out to give the Reds a deserved 1-0 lead.

 Easton produced another of her now classic sliding tackles to prevent Sarah McFadden continuing her run, while Bonner continually tidied up at the back – stopping Chaplen’s low ball all too easily. Stout was also twice called into action, first to collect Rachel Furness’ tricky low strike and then expertly tipping Mead’s goal bound effort over the crossbar.

 With the game entering the final few minutes, Liverpool won another corner which White once again stepped up to take; Dowie had positioned herself parallel to the 18-yard box and upon receiving the ball short from White, played a one-two with Bonner before crossing to Omarsdottir at the back post who could make no mistakes smashing the ball pas Olsen to secure the 3 points and the quarter-final spot for the Reds ahead of their final group fixture away at Manchester City on Sunday.

 Liverpool XI Stout, Harris, Bonner (C), Easton, Pacheco, Omarsdottir, Longhurst (Murray), Zelem (Smorsgard), Hodson (Ryland), White, Dowie

 POTM Natasha Dowie

MATCH REPORT: Liverpool Ladies 2 – 0 Bristol Academy

 Natasha Dowie scored a goal in each half as Liverpool Ladies secured an important 3 points with a 2-0 victory over Bristol Academy in Widnes on Saturday night.

 The brace from the in-form no.9 lifts the Reds to 13 points, leaving them 6th in the league and just 7 from the top of the table.

 Both Dowie and Rosie White returned to the starting 11 after their game-changing substitute appearances against Durham WFC last weekend; they were joined by Ashley Hodson and Kate Longhurst in attack, with Lucy Staniforth partnering Katie Zelem in midfield in front of an unchanged back 4 of Martha Harris, Gemma Bonner, Becky Easton and Mayumi Pacheco; Libby Stout in goal.

 492 supporters were in attendance to watch a cagey opening from the two teams, early probes forward from Bristol were stopped by Stout and an excellent block from Easton to deny Jade Boho-Sayo a shot on goal. Sophie Ingle also fired over for the visitors after Bonner had headed away a set piece.

 At the other end of the pitch, Staniforth had a free kick punched away from the bottom corner while White’s pass to Dowie in the final third was intercepted by Dutch defender Marje Brummel and Longhurst was pulled back for offside after being set through by Zelem.

 Prior to today Dowie had scored 5 goals in 5 games and was once again on the scoresheet midway through the first half; Hodson, along with Dowie, had made a well-timed run to pick up Staniforth’s looping ball over the top, the young forward seen her shot from a tight angle tipped away by Mary Earps but Dowie was on hand at the back post to tap the ball over the line and put Liverpool ahead.

 The remainder of the first half played out the same way as the opening 15 minutes, with Liverpool perhaps more in control particularly defensively as Stout commanded her area well and Bonner standing strong to take the ball a little too easily from the feet of a Bristol forward.

 Liverpool had the better of the chances to double their lead before half-time, at one stage penning Bristol in and around their 18-yard box but unable to find that final pass – Hodson’s cross missing White by a second and the successive throw-ins won by the corner flag leading to Longhurst’s pass searching for Dowie but intercepted.

 Dowie almost audaciously added a second in what surely would have be a contender for the league’s goal of the season award; receiving the ball with her back to goal in the corner of the box, flicking it in the air and turning to volley goal wards – Earps reacting quickly to save. Dowie also had a header go over the crossbar and was once again stopped by Earps, with a low drive sent out for a corner.

 Half-time: Liverpool Ladies 1 – 0 Bristol Academy

 Both Liverpool and Bristol made a change at half-time, with Satara Murray coming in for Kate Longhurst seeing Becky Easton move into midfield and Bristol’s Tatiana Pinto replacing Hannah Short.

 The Reds began the second 45 minutes the way they had ended the first, creating opportunities with Pacheco pressing further up the pitch and Hodson continuing to send decent balls into the box. Hodson was the stand out performer against Durham last week and impressed once again on the afternoon, her quick bursts of pace eluding the defence and winning set pieces for Liverpool.

 Bristol had an opportunity to equalise after Murray was penalised for a foul near the corner flag, Angharad James stepping up to take the free kick but Murray herself on hand in the wall to prevent the strike nearing goal. Martha Harris also frustrated Bristol with a goal line clearance later in the half.

 Liverpool’s determinedness to trouble the Bristol back line soon resulted in a second goal,  a near match for the goal scored against Durham as Hodson’s cross in from the right was converted by Dowie for her 7th goal since returning from the mid-season break. The no.9 was substituted shortly later to a great reception, the change likely made with one eye on the cup tie against Sunderland on Wednesday night.

 Although Bristol had chances to pull a goal back, the calmness from the Liverpool defence meant the Reds seen out their first league clean sheet of the season – Murray strong to clear from a set piece, Stout coming out and holding onto successive corners and who else but Gemma Bonner with a well-timed sliding challenge in the penalty area in the dying seconds.

 Full-time: Liverpool Ladies 2 – 0 Bristol Academy

 Liverpool XI – Stout, Harris, Bonner (C), Easton, Pacheco, Staniforth (Katrin), Zelem, Longhurst (Murray), Hodson, White, Dowie (Smorsgard)

 Player of the Match – Ashley Hodson

MATCH REPORT: Liverpool Ladies 1 – 0 Durham WFC

 Liverpool Ladies picked up their 3rd straight win in the Continental Cup on Saturday evening; Natasha Dowie coming off the bench to score the only goal of the game in the second half, her 4th in the competition so far.

 Defensively the Reds were unchanged from last weekend’s 2-2 draw away at Sunderland with Mayumi Pacheco, Becky Easton, Gemma Bonner and Martha Harris lining up from left to right in front of Libby Stout in goal. Lucy Staniforth and Katrin Omarsdottir also remained in midfield, joined by Katie Zelem; Kate Longhurst, Line Smorsgard and Ashley Hodson the attacking front 3.

 Throughout the first half Liverpool dominated the possession yet found it tough breaking Durham down, the visitors placing 9 players behind the ball and forward Amelia Pereira 20 yards or so ahead of them.

 Liverpool had a number of corners in quick succession in the opening stages of the first half, Staniforth’s delivery good on each occasion – Longhurst getting her head to one but unable to direct her header goal wards. Staniforth also seen a free kick blocked by the wall and an audacious long range effort from 40-yards dip just a couple of seconds too late to go narrowly over the crossbar.

  Ashley Hodson worked tirelessly up front searching for an opening, winning the first two corners and then latching onto a long ball over the top and through the middle of the defence. Hodson beating her marker with an impressive burst of speed yet her final strike inches wide.

 The Reds were passing the ball around well, with Durham seemingly comfortable to allow the home side to keep the ball, standing off and rarely pressing. Kate Longhurst had a shot parried after Katie Zelem neatly clipped the ball to Hodson, her cross meeting Longhurst in the centre of the box but Helen Alderson in the Durham goal positioned well.

 Longhurst was denied by Alderson again moments later, Hodson combining with Martha Harris to send the ball in from the right, Longhurst controlling and turning under pressure to get her shot in on target however an opening goal continued to elude Liverpool.

 On the rare occasion Durham broke ranks, the Reds defence dealt with the attacks with ease – Becky Easton matching Nicki Gears run and eventually seeing the ball out for a goal kick. A free kick was also well defended by Liverpool, with Gemma Bonner and Easton both blocking rebound attempts.

 Before half-time Staniforth rattled the post with a fiercely struck free kick and Line Smorsgard shot wide after being set up by Mayumi Pacheco.

 Half-time: Liverpool Ladies 0 – 0 Durham WFC

 Liverpool emerged unchanged for the second half and continued to pile the pressure on their visitors with Longhurst once more seeing her volley end in the arms of Alderson and a stunning cross in from Hodson skimming several red shirts in the box, while Pacheco shot over the crossbar and Bonner had a low drive punched away at the bottom corner.

 A change in personnel arrived with 35 minutes to play, Matt Beard making a double substitution in bringing on Rosie White and Natasha Dowie for Omarsdottir and Smorsgard; the duo making an immediate impact.

 Dowie has been in fine goalscoring form since the return from the summer break and looked hungry for more here, her first touch a nicely struck hit from the edge of the box deflected out for a corner, then the no.9 chased down Zelem’s through ball – the shot blocked and looking to be headed out for a corner, until hitting the turf and bouncing into the hands of the grateful keeper. Alderson then produced a good save at close range from Dowie after she had been put through by White.

 After her introduction it seemed only a matter of time before the striker was on the score sheet, 10 minutes after entering the fray Dowie converted Hodson’s cross over the line to put Liverpool ahead – and then almost scored a second immediately from the restart.

 The goal would prove to be the decisive one here, White going close hitting the crossbar and Bonner shooting wide in the final minutes.

  Satara Murray also made a welcome return from injury during the second half, although replacing Longhurst who picked up an injury during a brief flurry of activity in the Liverpool box.

 Full-time: Liverpool Ladies 1 – 0 Durham WFC

 XI Stout, Harris, Bonner (C), Easton, Pacheco, Omarsdottir (White), Staniforth, Zelem, Smorsgard (Dowie), Longhurst (Murray), Hodson

 POTM Ashley Hodson

MATCH REPORT: Sunderland Ladies 2 – 2 Liverpool Ladies

 Liverpool Ladies and top-of-the-league Sunderland Ladies battled for a point in a tense 2-2 draw in Hetton on Saturday evening.
 Sunderland had gone in front through Beth Mead before Liverpool’s Natasha Dowie netted an impressive equaliser; Rosie White put the visitors ahead in the second half but a late goal from Kelly McDougal gave the home side a share of the points.
 The Reds lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Dowie leading the line, White behind her with Kate Longhurst to her left and Ashley Hodson to her right. Lucy Staniforth started alongside Katrin Omarsdottir in centre midfield in front of a back four of, from left to right, Mayumi Pacheco, Becky 
Easton, captain Gemma Bonner and Martha Harris; Libby Stout in goal.
 Sunderland have been in fine form recently, prior to this game the Mackems had won their last 5 games; a 4-0 thrashing of previous league leaders Chelsea Ladies was followed by beating Bristol Academy 4-1 and Everton Ladies 5-2, while Liverpool were without a league win since the 3-1 victory away at Arsenal.
 It was the home side who started the game brightly, piling forwards in numbers and looking to apply pressure from the opening whistle. An early corner was tipped away by Stout, who also reacted quickly to a cross coming in from the left wing to clear up behind her defence and collected Greenwell’s free kick with ease after Omarsdottir was penalised for a foul on Beth Mead.
 After what seemed to be an all-out siege, Liverpool began to grow into the game; 16-year old Pacheco excellently skipping past Abby Holmes on the left wing to put a cross in moments before Longhurst won a corner on the same side.
 The resulting corner was attacked by Bonner at the near post but headed away only as far as Hodson who sent the ball back out to Staniforth, her shot from the side of the 18-yard box was punched away by the goalkeeper, falling to the feet of White who blazed a strike over the crossbar.
 Back up at the other end of the pitch Bonner and Easton were working hard together, with Bonner once again a leading example in the middle, and Pacheco coping well with England U23 international Mead who continually drifted out to the right of the Sunderland attack – shielding well inside the box to force the striker back. On the one occasion the Reds defence had appeared to be breached, Bonner produced a last-ditch and well-timed sliding challenge to deny Mead.
 Liverpool began to look the better side, Harris had a shot on target saved after good work by Hodson on the right wing and Longhurst’s lovely looping ball over the back four was only just missed by both Hodson and Dowie.
 They will have felt unlucky then to go 1-0 down, the referee awarding Sunderland a penalty after judging that Easton had fouled Mead in the area and the no.9 stepping up to slot the ball into the bottom right corner
 Undeterred Liverpool pressed on, almost replying immediately after great build up play – Bonner picking out Dowie with a long ball forward, out towards the left for Longhurst to close down and switch the ball across to Harris on the right, her cross reaching Dowie who hit it first time but the wrong side of the post.
 Dowie soon made amends, and in style, coming into possession midway through the Sunderland half, looking up to spot Hilde Gunn Olsen off her line and expertly lifting the ball past the keeper into the back of the net. Dowie scoring her fifth goal of 2015.
 The sides went in level at half-time, despite Sunderland finishing the half strongly – Bonner blocking a goal-bound shot and Stout called upon to save from Holmes after the right-back had cut in to shoot from 20 yards.
 Half-time: Sunderland Ladies 1 – 1 Liverpool Ladies
 Liverpool looked strong throughout the second half with Bonner vocally dictating play from the back and it should really have been 2-1 to Liverpool just minutes in – again, a great passing move beginning with Dowie receiving Harris’ throw-in, tapping across to Staniforth who sent Pacheco flying down the left; Pacheco’s cross skimmed the 6-yard box, picked up once more by Dowie at the other side, Dowie cutting the ball back to White and the New Zealander shooting over.
 The first substitution of the game seen Line Smorsgard take to the pitch in place of Ashley Hodson, following this the game descended into 10 minutes of madness.
 Becky Easton had matched Mead’s run into the box well, with the ball eventually rolling to Libby Stout who picked it up. The referee initially appeared to give an indirect free kick due to a back pass but after speaking to the linesman, deemed that Mead had the final touch.
 The home crowd and players were incensed by this decision, made no easier by the fact Liverpool immediately put themselves ahead. Once Stout received the ball back from the referee sending it long for Rosie White to carry forward and chip Olsen to make it 2-1.
 The crowd’s frustration appeared to rub off on Mead, who fouled Bonner before pushing Pacheco off the field – Pacheco subbed off for Corina Schroder but the board malfunctioning and therefore causing confusion. Tensions continued to grow as the home crowd began to boo Bonner’s every touch – not helped by the booking the Reds captain then picked up for a challenge on Mead.
 Continuing the action at a frightening pace, the game seen a real end-to-end finale with Schroder thrice denying Mead while Omarsdottir had two defenders slide in front of her to prevent her strike from reaching the goal.
 Sunderland equalised after a period of heavy pressure, McDougal grabbing the goal that would give them a point from the feisty encounter – despite a late Staniforth free kick crashing off the inside of the post and Omarsdottir unable to convert the rebound.                                  
 Full-time: Sunderland Ladies 2 – 2 Liverpool Ladies
 XI Stout, Harris, Bonner ©, Easton, Pacheco (Schroder), Omarsdottir, Staniforth, Hodson (Smorsgard), White, Longhurst, Dowie

 POTM Gemma Bonner

 A great fighting performance from Liverpool, who are unlucky not to come away with 3 points. Next up for the Reds they’re back in Continental Cup action against Durham WFC next Saturday 15th August at Select Security Stadium, Widnes.