Liverpool Ladies fell to their 3rd straight defeat as goals from Izzy Christianson and Natasha Harding kept Manchester City’s title dreams alive with just 2 games remaining of the Women’s Super League season.
There were 3 changes to the side beaten by Arsenal Ladies at the weekend, Ingrid Ryland coming into an otherwise unchanged back line with Martha Harris at right-back, Gemma Bonner and Satara Murray in the centre and Libby Stout in goal.
Katie Zelem dropped to the bench in favour of Lucy Staniforth, who would partner Katrin Omarsdottir in midfield while Line Smorsgard came in for Ashley Hodson on the left of the attack – Kate Longhurst on the right with Rosie White playing behind Natasha Dowie.
Manchester City are a side high on confidence after a run of 10 wins in 11 games, yet for the majority of the opening 45 minutes Liverpool’s defence stood strong. Bonner stopping Bronze in the opening minute, Staniforth with a clever interception at the edge of the area and Murray picking up a low pass looking for Natasha Harding.
Harris had had a great game in the previous league match against Arsenal and continued to impress here, tasked with marking the tricky Nikita Parris and containing her throughout the 90 minutes.
On the wing Harris would also face City left-back Demi Stokes, who had played well during her sides 1-0 win over Sunderland on Sunday but, like Parris, Stokes met her match in Harris and was limited to crossing early – not threatening Liverpool.
When in possession Liverpool looked to attack down the right of the pitch, with Harris winning successive throw-ins early on in the half and using these to edge further up the touchline, linking with Longhurst who would win the first corner of the game.
The home side were playing high up the pitch, Jill Scott in particular looking to be playing further forward than usual and seemingly camping out by the back post for the majority of the first half. In retaliation to this Reds captain Bonner urged her team mates forward to play a higher defensive line.
City continued to enjoy most of the games chances, Stout came off her line to prevent Harding connecting with a Scott through ball, Bonner put in an excellently timed sliding challenge in the box and Harris continued to win her battles with Parris. Stout also denied Harding at the near post before Murray did well to stay on her feet and win the ball off Parris 18 yards out.
On the stroke of half-time, City would take the lead; Christianson firing past Stout after a trademark move from former Liverpool defender Lucy Bronze – who had powered forward from right-back before cutting the ball back into the path of Christianson. Liverpool were incensed as just moments earlier a foul had been given against the Reds in the box after a good delivery from a White corner.
Half-time – Manchester City Women 1 – 0 Liverpool Ladies
Liverpool came under fire again in the second half, Stout strongly punching away a Christianson corner before brilliantly saving at close range from Harding – the rebound from Christianson blocked by Bonner, who also stopped another Bronze cross meeting its target.
Harding was leading the City front line in the absence of Toni Duggan, who Man City announced yesterday will miss the remainder of this season with an ankle injury. Harding herself only recently returned from injury and continued to test the Reds defence – Murray getting across and in front of the Welsh international to prevent her getting a shot in and then a low cross intercepted by Harris and cleared by Murray.
Shortly after a quick City counter-attack in which Staniforth was booked for a challenge on Christianson, Harding would double her side’s lead with 15 minutes to play – converting a Georgia Stanway cross at the near post.
Liverpool’s final substitution came late in the game with Maz Pacheco replacing Staniforth, following the earlier substitutions of Ashley Hodson and Katie Zelem on for Smorsgard and Longhurst. This signalling a change in formation, Harris moving into a back 3 alongside Bonner and Murray with Pacheco and Ryland at wing back.
The change gave Liverpool more width in their attacking play, in the final move of the game Pacheco won the ball from Bronze at the half way line and Liverpool pressed forward, switching the ball across to Ryland who had cut in but the Norwegian was unable to turn at the edge of the box and was eventually forced back.
After the defeat Liverpool remain 6th in the league table, with a home game against Chelsea Ladies on Saturday 26thSeptember and a final day tie against Bristol Academy a week later.
LIVERPOOL – Stout, Harris, Murray, Bonner ©, Ryland, Omarsdottir, Staniforth (Pacheco), Smorsgard (Hodson), Longhurst (Zelem), White, Dowie
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – Martha Harris