SCOTT Rogers first season in charge of Liverpool Ladies came to a disappointing end on Sunday evening in Widnes, the Reds beaten 5-3 by Arsenal Ladies to finish fifth overall in the FA Women’s Super League.
Satara Murray capped her hugely impressive second season at the club by opening the scoring with her first goal in a red shirt however a quick-fire brace from Danielle Carter put the visitors ahead.
Jordan Nobbs and Chloe Kelly scored for the Gunners either side of Shanice van de Sanden’s neat finish in the second half, then former Liverpool player Asisat Oshoala struck in injury time shortly before Caroline Weir volleyed home a late consolation in the high-scoring tie.
Ashley Hodson retained her place up front and was joined in attack by Natasha Harding and, making her first start, Niamh Charles; in midfield Katie Zelem partnered Weir, the duo just ahead of Kate Longhurst in front of the back four of Murray, Gemma Bonner, Sophie Ingle and Mandy van den Berg – Siobhan Chamberlain in goal.
Hodson and Charles were looking to link up in the early stages of the game, first Charles found herself in space and clipped the ball through to Hodson yet her cross towards Harding was intercepted.
Then Charles once more got the better of Arsenal’s Emma Mitchell, skipping around her marker and attempting to thread Hodson through on goal but Dutch goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal was quickly off her line.
At the other end of the pitch it was Arsenal that were carving out the more clear-cut opportunities, Jodie Taylor glancing a header over the crossbar and Chamberlain stopping Danielle van de Donk’s long range volley from crossing the line.
Liverpool’s persistence on the right wing would then pay off, Murray swinging in a fierce cross that spun over van Veenendaal and into the top corner – the full-back’s reaction to opening the scoring, her first goal for the club nonetheless, a mixture of surprise and amusement and providing one of the highlights of the season.
Unfortunately for the Reds this lead was short lived as Danielle Carter scored twice in quick succession with two stunning strikes from outside the box to put the Gunners ahead.
Both sides would have chances before half time – Weir set up by Zelem to find the back of the net from six yards but the linesman had already flagged for offside, then Harding was inches away from connecting with a cross from Charles.
Harding was also called upon in defence following a Fara Williams set piece, the ball bouncing around in the area and van de Donk prodding it towards goal only for Harding to be well-positioned to block and then kick start a Liverpool counter attack.
In the second half Liverpool also began with a counter attack, Weir intercepting an Oshoala effort this time and the Reds racing forward only for Leah Williamson to intercept Harding’s cross.
The Reds were struggling to break through the Arsenal defence with Josephine Henning also getting between Harding and the ball after Hodson and Weir combined to get the ball in the box.
Arsenal then capitalised through Jordan Nobbs, who extended the Gunners lead to 3-1 by yet another strike from outside the box.
Liverpool were quick to react, Rogers making a double substitution shortly before the hour mark as Shanice van de Sanden and Rosie White replaced Niamh Charles and Ashley Hodson.
van de Sanden had an immediate impact, breaching the defence to square the ball to Weir who had made a run into the middle of the area only for van Veenendaal to produce a good save.
Just two minutes after entering the action van de Sanden pulled a goal back for Liverpool, Weir lacing a perfect pass that split the defence wide open and van de Sanden finishing across her international team mate.
The Dutch winger could have had a hat trick within five minutes, one strike hitting the side netting and then beaten to the ball by van Veenendaal after chasing another Weir pass.
Liverpool looked revitalised and Murray was rampant on the right, twice winning the ball deep in the Arsenal half to create chances for the Reds – first the full back stealing the ball from Carter, getting the ball to van de Sanden who found White but her strike was saved and then earning a corner which van Veenendaal punched away.
White also forced the backtracking goalkeeper into another save after an ambitious chipped effort from the edge of the box.
However it would be another substitution that would swing the game back into Arsenal’s hands, youngster Chloe Kelly recently back from a loan spell with Everton Ladies coming from the bench to convert an Oshoala cross and re-extend the Gunners lead to 4-2.
Former Liverpool attacker Oshoala also found the back of the net herself in injury time, before Weir struck a consolation volley in the 95th minutes to ensure she finished the year as the Reds top goalscorer.
Despite the final day defeat this was only the Reds second league defeat since May with six wins and three draws in that time; including an away win at Arsenal and two ties with league champions Manchester City – Liverpool the first side both to score past City and to take points from them.
Rogers has built an impressive squad, playing exciting football that can and will challenge with a couple of new additions.
The FA Women’s Super League will revert to a winter season from September 2017, to bridge the gap between now and then a one-off Spring Series will be held from February to May; each team will play each other once.
LIVERPOOL LADIES:Chamberlain, Murray, Bonner ©, Ingle, van den Berg, Longhurst, Zelem (Lundh), Weir, Harding, Charles (van de Sanden), Hodson (White)
PLAYER OF THE MATCH:Satara Murray