MATT BEARD’S reign as manager of Liverpool Ladies FC came to an end as the Reds bowed out the Champions League, losing 1-0 on the night to Italian side Brescia CF.
The away goal came against the run of play midway through the first-half, Liverpool were denied what looked to be a clear penalty shortly after and had a goal disallowed for offside.
The final game of the year seen a trio of injured players return to the line-up with Libby Stout back in goal, Martha Harris at right-back and Asisat Oshoala on the wing – Corina Schroder and Line Smorsgard were unused substitutes.
In Gemma Bonner’s absence, Natasha Dowie captained the side once more and Katrin Omarsdottir stepped back into central defence to partner Satara Murray, Ingrid Ryland at left-back and Lucy Staniforth playing in a deep central midfield role with Rosie White, Katie Zelem, and Ashley Hodson completing the line-up.
Liverpool came under pressure early on, similar to the first leg the Italians initially probing on the right with Daniela Sabatino who was easily dispossessed by Ryland. Sabatino was then the target of a cross in from the same side, this was blocked by Omarsdottir seconds before the Icelandic and Murray were quick to react and close down a nifty back heel from Tarenzi at the edge of the area.
In Brescia, Staniforth had played in a wide position and moving back into the centre of the pitch on the night here showed great vision with a couple of passes during the first half – one falling perfectly for Dowie who set up Zelem but she could find no way through the sea of blue shirts. Later in the half a low pass sliced through the defence reached Oshoala, yet before the Nigerian could take a second touch the keeper (a 17-year old substitute who had only just took to the pitch) was quick off her line to collect.
Zelem had been involved at the other end prior to this, helping out in defence and clearing towards Hodson who impressively accelerated and left Brescia centre back Elena Linari way off the pace but her cross towards the waiting Dowie was intercepted by Sara Gama.
The Reds began looking more and more likely to take the lead and were attacking in numbers with Harris and Ryland pressing high up. Harris slipped Oshoala in with a neat through ball, the offside was however up even before Oshoala’s cross was sent wide by Hodson and Murray also seen a header go the wrong side of the post from a Staniforth set piece.
Dowie’s hold up play was once more excellent, laying another ball into the path of Zelem who couldn’t quite connect right with it and Harris’ strike went over the crossbar after good work by the no.9 and Ryland.
Brescia took the lead against the run of play, the tricky Sabatino winning the ball midway through the Liverpool half, charging forward with a run matched by Barbara Bonanesa and the latter slotted the ball home from 6 yards out to grab an important away goal – this meaning the Reds would need 3 goals to progress to the Round of 16.
Before half-time the referee made a controversial decision as the French official waved away Liverpool’s cries of handball, Roberta D’Adda had appeared to block a Zelem strike with her arm.
Liverpool went straight on the attack in the second half, searching for goals while Brescia were happy to sit back and defend their advantage. Hodson won a corner from kick-off, which led to 3 successive set pieces – the final of which fell to Oshoala outside the box who volleyed wide.
Hodson then had a shot blocked, while Oshoala could find no way past Gama after a tidy turn from White in the Brescia half. White also sent Dowie chasing a through ball, but with two imposing Italian defenders Dowie clipped her strike inches off target
In the semi-final against Notts County on Sunday, Fara Williams had made her welcome return from injury and played the final 25 minutes as she replaced Staniforth in central midfield.
A glimmer of hope briefly flickered as Oshoala looked to have pulled a goal back with a brilliant header, yet perplexingly the lineswoman flagged for offside and the goal was disallowed, stifling hopes of a comeback – Williams going closest before the final whistle, her corner almost straight in at the near post but held well by the keeper. While up at the other end a great save from Stout prevented the deficit from being 2 on the night.
The defeat marks the end of a tough year for Liverpool Ladies, the squad that Beard had hailed as his strongest yet has been massively depleted by injury since the mid-season break – 15 first team players missing numerous games. The manager now departs for a new challenge in the USA, while whoever takes over the helm at the Reds inherits a squad that now boasts a wealth of experienced youth players but will also, as Beard said in an interview with the Liverpool Echo this week, need support from the club to replace the top class players lost over the last 2 seasons and compete once more at the top of the table.
LIVERPOOL LADIES Stout, Harris, Omarsdottir, Murray, Ryland, Staniforth (Williams), White (Dale), Zelem, Oshoala, Hodson, Dowie (C)
PLAYER OF THE MATCH Satara Murray
Finally, a thank you to everyone who has followed @LFCladiesfans this season, stick with me over the break as I’ll be bringing you news from the Development Squad – their campaign running until the end of November and picking up again at the beginning of February.