THREE MAGNIFICENT STRIKES ensured Liverpool Ladies returned to winning ways in Doncaster, effectively relegating the winless Belles as the Reds returned to Merseyside with a 3-1 victory.
Doncaster took an early lead when Rhiannon Roberts nodded a set piece into the back of the net. However two audacious strikes from Caroline Weir put Liverpool ahead at the break and Tash Harding sealed the win with a sublime hit of her own in the second half.
After suffering a knock during the warm up at Birmingham, Mandy van den Berg returned to the back line alongside Satara Murray, Gemma Bonner and Sophie Ingle – with Siobhan Chamberlain in goal.
Ashley Hodson also came into the starting eleven to lead the line with Shanice van de Sanden and Natasha Harding either side of her; Laura Coombs, Katie Zelem and Caroline Weir completing the line up in midfield.
Liverpool struggled during the opening stages to get a grasp on the game, this despite Harding creating the first chance of the tie following lovely link up play between Coombs and van den Berg. Harding flew down the left wing to cross towards Hodson but stand-in Belles goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse beat her to the ball.
The Reds conceded a set piece with Zelem well-positioned on the edge of the box to bat the first away before Rebecca Rayner sent a great opportunity wide of the mark after slipping through the defence to chase a loose ball.
Rayner was looking lively for the home side and sent another effort over the crossbar shortly later, the youth player teed up by former LFC midfielder Katrin Omarsdottir.
Just eleven minutes in Liverpool were forced into a substitution, Coombs unable to continue after a collision with Emily Simpkins and replaced by Kate Longhurst.
Liverpool were having some luck down the left through van den Berg pressing high up the pitch and getting the ball into the box, from one such move the ball was cleared only as far as Zelem who struck wide from distance.
Doncaster took the lead when a harsh free kick was given against van den Berg out wide, the resulting set piece swung in by Simpkins and headed past Chamberlain by Roberts.
Simpkins then went for goal herself from another free kick, a move straight from the training ground with Omarsdottir and Carla Humphrey appearing to argue about who was to take it before Simpkins sent a shot wide.
Spurred on by the Doncaster goal, Liverpool began to settle into a rhythm and soon found themselves on top; van den Berg hitting another excellent ball that almost fell for van de Sanden and Hodson only for Moorhouse to be aware of the danger and off her line to collect.
A tight offside decision was given against the Reds when Harding when one-on-one with Moorhouse, Zelem had slipped the winger through only for the assistant referee to flag for offside.
This preceded a period of domination by Liverpool, at one point the ball bouncing around the Doncaster box with each of van de Sanden, Harding, Hodson and Weir denied by the plucky Belles defence.
Liverpool displayed patient build up play despite trailing, each failed attack would end back with Bonner and the ball once more played forward through the great link up play of Longhurst and Zelem.
Zelem has an eye for a great pass and sprayed one wide here for van de Sanden to chase, the winger getting behind the left back to flash the ball into the box – Hodson there but closed down and Doncaster able to clear.
The Reds patience was eventually rewarded with a superb brace from Weir.
Her first coming after Zelem clipped the ball around Omarsdottir to find the Scottish international in space, Leandra Little arrived a second too late to close her down and Weir scooped the ball under Moorhouse to put Liverpool level.
Then, on the brink of half time, the Reds were in the lead – Ingle this time providing Weir with the ball and Weir turning to fire an even more impressive and unstoppable strike past the ‘keeper with her left foot.
Liverpool went in at half time with a deserved lead.
Out for the second half quick out the blocks with van de Sanden racing down the right and cutting the ball back to Zelem, the midfielder hit the ball sweetly from 20 yards but straight at Moorhouse.
Zelem also won a free kick in the opening minutes of the second half, Weir sending it in with her left foot and finding Zelem who headed wide.
Then Longhurst went on a bursting run all the way into the Belles box where she went down calling for a foul, her protests were waved away by the referee and Hodson’s shot was closed down.
It was all Liverpool and Doncaster were now the ones struggling to get a foothold, unable to cope with the Reds passing.
Following Hodson’s shot being blocked the ball was immediately won back by Zelem who tapped it to Weir, she turned to find Longhurst who in turn passed back to van den Berg – short, quick passes again going back to the defence until one of the back line could find an opening further upfield.
Liverpool’s greatest chance to put distance between themselves and the Belles came just four minutes into the second half, Ingle playing the ball forward, Harding dummying and van den Berg crossing to her Dutch international team mate van de Sanden. van de Sanden’s shot was blocked and the ball fell to Weir who knocked it back to Hodson who struck the post.
van de Sanden’s second half performance was excellent and the winger was unlucky not to be on the scoresheet herself after Harding cheekily nutmegged her marker to tee up van de Sanden but she was denied by Moorhouse.
The Reds soon found the back of the net again, a loose ball falling to Harding outside the area and Doncaster slow to react as Harding lifted the ball around several players and over the line to put Liverpool 3-1 up.
Despite the slow start Liverpool played some of the best football they’ve played this season towards the end of the first half and during the majority of the second, a well-earned three points going into the season’s final game – and what could be a fight for third – against Arsenal Ladies on November 6th,
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Chamberlain, Murray, Bonner (C), Ingle, van den Berg, Coombs (Longhurst), Zelem, Weir, van de Sanden, Harding (Green), Hodson
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Caroline Weir