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