Liverpool Ladies booked their place in the Continental Cup semi-finals with an emphatic 4-1 victory over Bristol Academy; Natasha Dowie scoring all 4 goals.
Dowie had looked isolated during the 2-0 defeat to Manchester City midweek and led the line for Liverpool on the afternoon here admirably ahead of an attacking trio of Katie Zelem, Kate Longhurst and Rosie White with Katrin Omarsdottir and Lucy Staniforth in midfield.
Libby Stout started in goal, despite pulling her groin – Gemma Bonner taking over goal kick duties and partnering Satara Murray in the centre of defence with Ingrid Ryland returning at left- back and Martha Harris on the right.
Two weeks earlier these sides had met in a league tie, with Liverpool coming out 2-0 winners in that game, since Bristol have suffered a 3-0 defeat to Birmingham – a result that effectively condemns them to relegation, as they sit 5 points adrift of the midlands side with 2 games to play.
This meant that, like Liverpool, Bristol are left fighting on just one front competitively and initially proved tough for the Reds to break down.
Twice in the opening minutes probing through ball were sent through the defence for Dowie to chase, while Harris was pressing high up the pitch and linking with Longhurst out wide trying to find an opening.
Liverpool’s first chance came from a set piece, with Staniforth having switched back to taking corners and playing an inviting low ball towards the incoming White at the near post. The New Zealander sending her effort curling just inches wide of the post.
Staniforth was involved again moments later as the Reds embarked on a wonderful passing move; Longhurst winning possession on the half way line, sending the ball to Zelem on the right wing who clipped it first time in towards Staniforth who herself passed back out wide to Dowie – Dowie’s cross fizzing across the box but White unable to connect.
Throughout the 90 minutes Liverpool continued to display fine passing, moving the ball quickly despite Bristol’s attempts to close them down; Dowie flicking Harris’ throw-in to the feet of Omarsdottir and Ryland playing her best game in the shirt yet, making a number of mazy runs down the left.
The first shot the home side had on target was well saved by Stout and Bonner once more made defending look effortless as she side-stepped Christie Murray to bring the ball out of defence.
Before taking the lead, Dowie was twice denied at close range by Mary Earps in the Bristol goal. First after meeting a pinpoint pass over the top of the defence by Zelem and then after connecting with Harris’ cross.
Dowie had so far been eluded by the England U23 goalkeeper from open play, however Earps couldn’t produce a save for Dowie’s spot kick – awarded after White was pulled down in the box – with the Reds leading goal scorer stepping up to send her the wrong way and place the penalty in the bottom left corner to give Liverpool a deserved 1-0 lead.
Bristol almost responded immediately after Anghared James powered forward into the Reds area, her run was matched all the way by Murray and her cut back cleared by Harris.
They would soon have their equaliser however, summer signing Jade Boho-Sayo with the long-range strike to beat Stout and the sides went in at half-time level.
Half-time: Bristol Academy 1 – 1 Liverpool Ladies
Liverpool continued the second-half as they had begun the first, attacking in numbers and passing the ball well.
Ryland won an early corner after good work on the left wing; Staniforth’s ball headed on at the back post by Bonner but Dowie unable to send it goal wards.
Bristol themselves then had a corner, shortly after Boho-Sayo tried her luck from range after but this attempt drifting wide. The corner was cleared to the edge of the box where the waiting Hayley Ladd struck it first time – this blocked by the Liverpool defence.
Having already conceded once Liverpool never really looked in danger of conceding a second, with the strength of the attacking play particularly down the left with Ryland and White and it seemed only a matter of time until the visitors regained their lead.
The goal eventually came, White passing back up the wing to Ryland and the Norwegians cross being dinked over Earps by Dowie – her 40th goal for Liverpool.
Once going back ahead, it suddenly became all Liverpool with the team looking confident. Ashley Hodson came on for Omarsdottir and looked lively from her first touch, joining the fast paced attack on the right.
Dowie soon had her hat-trick, White setting her through the defence – despite Bristol’s offside claims – and Dowie keeping her composure to finish low past Earps.
Liverpool then had numerous chances to make it 4-1; White somehow kept out at close range after a brilliant cross from Hodson then Hodson herself having a strike saved after being put through by White and Zelem and Dowie both hitting the crossbar.
Late substitutions seen Mayumi Pacheco and Line Smorsgard come on for Ingrid Ryland and Rosie White; Smorsgard having a claim for a penalty waved away by the referee.
To the home crowd’s dismay it would end 4-1 to Liverpool, who else but Natasha Dowie to round off a prolific afternoon in front of goal with another well-taken strike to beat Earps.
Liverpool march on into the semi-finals where they will meet one of Notts County, Birmingham City or Arsenal/ Manchester City.
Full-time: Bristol Academy 1 – 4 Liverpool Ladies
LIVERPOOL Stout, Harris, Murray, Bonner ©, Ryland (Pacheco), Omarsdottir (Hodson), Staniforth, Zelem, Longhurst, White (Smorsgard), Dowie
PLAYER OF THE MATCH Natasha Dowie