LIVERPOOL Ladies defeated FA Women’s Super League leaders and Champions League semi-finalists Manchester City 1-0 on Tuesday night.
In a performance that encapsulated what Liverpool as a football club represent the Reds dug deep and, in truth, could have won by a larger margin.
The general press will focus on City and their failure to win however it is Liverpool here who deserve all the credit, a game plan executed to perfection and a counter attacking prowess matched by resilient defending.
The Reds deserved all three points on the night, here is how the action unfolded…
In the pre-match programme Alex Greenwood spoke of how during the Merseyside derby a week earlier, it felt as though Liverpool “had a different energy and a bit of a buzz about us”.
That energy clearly carried over into the clash against City with the Reds on the front foot from the opening whistle and Greenwood once more excelling in an advanced attacking role. The England international has been exceptional in a side that has struggled for consistency at times this season, despite being self-critical in the aforementioned programme.
The exuberance from Liverpool and their willingness to move the ball quickly up the pitch almost seemed to take City by surprise; Caroline Weir nicking the ball from the feet of Nikita Parris in the second minute, allowing Bethany England an early shot on target with an effort deflected into the arms of goalkeeper Karen Bardsley.
Back-to-back set pieces from the visitors also in the opening minutes were both unflinchingly batted away, the second seeing Satara Murray waltz out from the back with the ball and leading to Niamh Charles almost picking out the run of Kate Longhurst.
If back-to-back set pieces were swiftly dealt with by the Reds in defence, this was then mirrored at the opposite end of the pitch.
Greenwood brought down outside the 18-yard box and Weir swinging in a free kick that went out for a corner.
The corner played short and winding back at the feet of Greenwood who played an inch-perfect cross to England who rose above everyone to head the ball into the back of the net.
Convincingly ahead and showing no signs of letting up, England very nearly netted a second after a thrilling move from Greenwood and Weir. The ball initially looking to be a step behind the Scot yet expertly flicked wide to Greenwood without a backwards glance, Greenwood providing a low cross to England who was denied by Bardsley.
City were ruffled and their attacks spurned at every turn; Gemma Bonner and Sophie Ingle proving unbeatable in the heart of the defence, Martha Harris in the way of a throw-in from Esme Morgan and Laura Coombs preventing Jill Scott from registering a shot on target.
To single out players, particularly during the first half, for praise almost seems unfair on the team efforts yet Murray and Harris on either wing impressed and were responsible for restricting City’s chances. Each winning every ball they contested and being quick to move it on and start the roving forward marches from the Reds attack.
The catalyst to the Reds counter attacking play throughout was the excellent Coombs, continually box-to-box and providing the link between defence and attack helped by her equally eye-catching midfield colleagues. Longhurst the steel ahead of the back four and Weir the flair playing behind England.
As the game approached the midway stage it was Liverpool who looked more likely to score again, Coombs finding England who in turn picked out Charles. The young attacker, who has been greatly missed through injury throughout the season, chested the ball down inside the area but was instantly dispossessed before being able to volley it home.
Coombs then created chaos in the area with a set piece delivery that pinged around before eventually being hooked clear by Jennifer Beattie and City ended the half with, what felt like and could possibly have been, their first real chance as Parris struck the side netting.
As expected the visitors came out swinging in the second half and made two changes within 15 minutes in a bid to mix things up.
These Reds however continued as they had ended the first half; Greenwood twice seeing crosses cleared, Coombs’ strike from 30-yard narrowly over the crossbar and England nearly teeing up Weir only for Morgan to get the slightest of touches to push the ball away.
Liverpool also continued to defend immensely against the growing City frustrations. Harris intercepting a cross from Nadim and Murray also denying the Dane from finding a team mate minutes later.
While City began to throw everything at the game, the Reds defended immensely. Longhurst winning each of her battles, headers against the towering Scott and, later, throwing herself in front of a dangerous ball from Stokes.
In the final minutes Liverpool faced an onslaught with everyone dropping back to stop City grabbing an undeserved equaliser – Murray and Longhurst winning possession from Claire Emslie and Georgia Stanway respectively, substitute Amy Rodgers powerfully heading away Stanway’s cross and England back in defence to deny Steph Houghton.
The list goes on and on; Ingle thwarted Parris as she had when the two met last month in England and Wales World Cup qualifier, a previously quiet Siobhan Chamberlain in the Liverpool goal brilliantly saving one corner and strongly catching another and Ingle once more heading clear under pressure from Beattie and Jane Ross.
In added time Houghton had the chance to steal a point with a free kick right at the edge of the area yet stepped up to send it high.
At the final whistle a great roar went up from the proud Liverpool supporters, the winning feeling that much more sweeter being that the Reds haven’t beaten Manchester City in four years and signalling that this team can not ever be counted out. The players soaked up the applause and will take this confidence into the final two games of the season – away at Reading on Saturday and back at Prenton Park to take on likely league champions Chelsea on Sunday 20 May.