saints strike late to deny leeds ladies in fa plateBack
Leeds Ladies were knocked out of the FA Women’s Premier League Plate by Southampton Saints in extra time on Sunday after letting a late lead slip in Ossett.
It was another frustrating afternoon for Leeds, whose performances in recent weeks have not been rewarded by results.
Saints ended up winning 4–2 after a 2–2 full time score, but Leeds will feel they should have had the game sewn up after creating by far the most chances over the course of 120 minutes.
Carey Huegett gave Leeds an early lead when, with both teams assuming Leeds had won a corner, the linesman indicated Leeds’ cross had been blocked by a Saints hand and awarded a penalty; Kez ignored the Saints protests with a cool finish low past the goalkeeper. Leeds weren’t ahead for long, though, as while they pressed for a second goal Saints sprang Leeds’ offside trap and equalised a few minutes later.
A lot of Leeds’ attacking play came about thanks to the season’s best performance yet from forward Bianca Ross, who was vital in changing the angle of attack between wingers Shelbey Morris and Hannah Campbell. Ross herself looked likeliest to score but instead provided the assist for Huegett’s second, receiving Morris’ cross and laying the ball off for Kez to finish from just inside the penalty area.
“Bianca is great and is building her confidence up week on week,” says Leeds’ captain Emma Bentley. "On her day, she is capable of tearing this league apart.
“All the attackers were being creative and linking up well together, only finding it difficult to execute that final piece of play to beat the Saints keeper – who to be fair was outstanding.”
Leeds began the second half looking to convert their attacking emphasis into more goals, but suffered an early blow when Shelbey Morris came off worse from a defender’s desperate attempt to block a scoring chance on the edge of the box. Shelbey’s last act in the game was to get the shot away before she was taken to hospital with an ankle injury; fortunately scans showed only soft tissue damage rather than a break.
“I really hope Shelbey isn’t out for long because I think she has been brilliant this season,” says Emma. “She and Hannah Campbell up front have looked so dangerous every week – defenders hate it when those two are running at them all game.”
It was difficult for either side to get going in the second half due to a bizarre dispute with the match officials that affected the course of the game, as the referee seemed to have been busy at half-time painting a soccer pattern onto a bowling ball.
From kick-off both sets of players were ignored as they tried to tell the referee that the ball was unplayable, until notoriously tough Erin White was the latest player from both sides to see stars after a routine headed clearance and struggle to get back to her feet.
A digital gauge was produced by the Saints bench that showed the ball had been pumped up at half-time to a weight of 16 pounds per square inch – above the upper maximum limit and far in excess of the 9–11 psi being used for the two other match balls in the game.
Insisting that the ball was within regulations ("if it was measured at sea level," according to the linesman) and refusing to listen to concerns from both benches, the referee instead showed a red card to the Southampton physio for arguing in favour of the players’ safety and, when a Leeds player booted the ball out of the ground in sheer frustration, booked a Saints player for the offence despite being told repeatedly by both players who was responsible.
After a long delay the game restarted, with the added sideshow of both teams trying to kick the heavyweight ball out of play and back to the 1950s whenever it came on so that the other, properly inflated match balls could be used.
That wasn’t much help to Emma Bentley, who had already felt the full force of a ricochet to her face when clearing a corner early in the half. Despite playing on for another twenty minutes, the Leeds captain eventually had to be taken off with sickness and double vision.
"As a player you know exactly when a ball is flat, and you know when a ball is too hard. Everyone has been hit with a complete stinger in the middle of winter that leaves hexagons on your leg, but this was ten times worse – it was like being hit by a rock.
"When it first happened my eyes were stinging and there was blood coming from my lips or my nose, I’m not sure which, but I just pretended that it didn’t hit me and re-set for the goal kick. As I ran into position I heard our chairman Gary Cooper shout, ‘How many fingers am I holding up Bentz?’ and I thought, ‘I can’t even see you, never mind your fingers!’
"I did try to play on, but I literally couldn’t see properly. Every time I ran to challenge what I thought was the player, it wasn’t actually the player and suddenly they would be gone and I’d completely missed them. I had to tell our manager Jak Oldroyd to sub me because I knew I wasn’t doing the team any good."
After the early penalty against them, the physio’s red card and the mistaken identity that saw their player booked, Saints looked more and more ready to prove a point to the match officials, and that frustration could be felt in the powerful shot that their best player, Rebecca Bath, drove in from distance to make the score 2–2 with just moments of the game left.
A sign that it wouldn’t be Leeds’ day followed immediately when Kez Huegett replied with a powerful long-range shot of her own, only for the Saints keeper to tip it onto the post in the last act of the game.
After getting her ankle strapped up, Kez rallied Leeds and led the charge into extra time, and dangerous attacking runs from Campbell and supporters’ player of the month Emily Starkie were the source of another clutch of Leeds chances. Saints were the more clinical side, however, and a goal in each half sent them through to the next round.
The defeat was hard to take for Leeds, but the feeling that they should have got more from game has to be balanced against the fact that the Premier League Plate is less of a priority than the league itself this season.
“We always want to win,” says Emma. "We could be playing a bunch of ten year olds and I still think we wouldn’t let them win.
“What we have to take from this game is that, to be brutally honest, cup dreams are great, but I don’t think we would have won this particular competition. We have to be thankful for the rest weeks we’ll get from this and focus on our priorities. Although ask me that again on a Sunday when we have no game to play, I don’t think I will be quite so diplomatic!”
There was a boost for Leeds Ladies Sunday with the news that the Leeds Development Squad won their game against Guiseley 2–1, with goals from Rachel Ackroyd and Sophie Varley; the first team are next in action against Tingley Ladies Reserves in the County Cup at Manse Lane, Knaresborough, on Sunday October 19th, kicking off at 2pm – entry is £2 for adults and £1 for kids. Follow Leeds Ladies FC and the LLFC Supporters Club on Twitter for updates.