three hat tricks for leeds ladies on “great day for strikers”Back
After a quick sequence of difficult matches against Liverpool, Morecambe and Southampton – as well as the brilliant but draining win over Guiseley Vixens – Leeds Ladies took full advantage of being able to play without league pressure in the first round of the County Cup on Sunday.
Tingley Ladies Reserves didn’t always make it as easy for Leeds as it might sound from the 9–0 scoreline, but a controlled performance by the home side allowed Leeds to relax in the second half and tick a few boxes that should freshen up their season.
The big box ticked for captain Emma Bentley was her return to the Leeds attack after a season so far spent in central defence, in place of the injured Fiona Berry.
Emma celebrated by scoring the first of three Leeds hat-tricks, with Carey Huegett and birthday girl Bianca Ross also getting three each on an expensive day for Leeds chairman Gary Cooper, who hadn’t expected a triple hit on his promise of chocolates, champagne and flowers for any player scoring a hat-trick.
For Emma, it was just a pleasure to be back in attack.
“I don’t think I could wipe the smile off my face for 90 minutes!” she says. "I was knackered because I do a lot more running up front than in defence, but I just kept bouncing around with this stupid grin on my face, like ‘gimme the ball again!’
"This season has been a big challenge for me in so many ways, but the biggest has definitely been playing in a brand new position for the first time since I started playing football aged seven. Before this season I had never in my life played a competitive game as a defender, and I reckon I’ve probably only lasted maybe ten minutes there in training before spitting my dummy out and going back up front!
“It took me at least four games this season to go to the correct start position for kick off. I would go to the middle, do the coin toss and then stand there ready to take the kick off. It was just such a natural thing to do. Everyone would be looking at me like ‘Bentz – what you doing? Get back here!’”
It wasn’t an instant return to glory for Emma, as the first chance that came her way in the penalty area ended up safely in the Tingley keeper’s arms – leading to amused chants of ‘You’ve forgotten how to do it!’ from the Leeds supporters.
“When the ball came in I thought ‘this is it, get a good touch and finish it’ – the touch was pretty good, then maybe I had a bit of a rush of blood and practically hit it straight at the keeper. Missing that first chance could have been a really bad thing, but then the supporters cracked out that chant and made me laugh, relax and think ‘don’t worry, there will be more.’”
Emma had to wait for first Bianca Ross and then Kez Huegett to score a goal each – “I’ll be honest, I did get a bit edgy, jealous even” – before they combined to put Emma through for her first goal.
“When Bianca played the ball through to Kez I knew that she was clever enough to see my run and do a flick – Kez is so clever and reads the game so well, I knew I just had to stay onside and she would send it. She did, and I saw the keeper had come out of her goal so I decided to take it round her. The final thought was ‘Keep your cool and don’t miss’ – and seeing the ball hit the back of that net felt mint.”
After half time Bianca moved ahead in the race to three goals, before Emma struck two quick in quick succession to claim the first hat-trick scored for the newly formed club. Her third started on the right wing at the half-way line, and ended up in the net after a strong run and finish.
“That wasn’t a bad one!” says Emma. "I remember getting the ball from Hannah Campbell in front of the fans and my first thought was that if I lost it there they’d crucify me. So I knocked it past the defender and off I went. I looked up and Bianca was just arriving at the back post, but after I came inside across the next defender I was pretty much inside the box – and as a striker when you’re in the box, you shoot! Having that as a hat-trick goal was a great feeling.
“It was a great day for strikers all round and I’m glad Kez and Bianca got their goal fix too. Kez showed great strength for her first goal to hold off about four defenders on the edge of the box before scoring. Bianca’s second was a really strong, typical Bianca Ross run from the back post into the box where she poked it past the keeper – her hat-trick was a nice little birthday present, and an overdue reward for the hard work she has been putting in.”
The goals tally was nearly added to by Hannah Campbell who hammered the ball against post and bar, and Emma praised the whole team for their performance – and the defence for a long-awaited clean sheet.
"I have been so jealous of Hannah Campbell this season, watching in defence as she scores goal after goal! I do wish she had netted on Sunday though – she was as strong as ever and she literally never seems tired.
“It obviously takes a lot more than just one player to score a goal, and there was a whole team behind the strikers on Sunday who all worked damn hard to get the ball up the pitch and create chances. I was absolutely thrilled with the clean sheet as well – our goalkeeper Lauryn Colman in particular has deserved that for a few weeks now.”
The defence was boosted in the second half by the return to action of Fiona Berry after a long spell out following shoulder surgery in the summer, a commanding centre half with a fearsome reputation for her ruthless hatred of strikers.
"I was so happy seeing Fiona step onto that pitch on Sunday – everybody has been eagerly awaiting her return. She is a great player, completely solid at the back, and I know how desperate she has been to get back playing. But she has been patient and followed the physio’s advice, waiting until she is ready – I know she wanted to play two or three weeks ago.
“The first thing I said to her though when she came on was ‘Take it easy, and BE SENSIBLE’ – not because I didn’t want her to hurt herself, I didn’t want her to see a card on her first game back!”
Leeds were also boosted by the appearance of European featherweight champion Josh Warrington, who is a patron of the club and arrived straight from an event in Leeds in time for the second half; Kez Huegett’s skills, Hannah Campbell’s shot against the post and Emma Bentley’s third goal all caught his eye, although he didn’t seem sure about being told by Gary Cooper that “Fiona Berry is what you’d be like if you were 6ft5.”
“Josh coming on Sunday was great for the club,” says Emma. "He said that he would and he was true to his word and turned up to show his support. That’s what everybody loves about Josh, he is so busy with training, fights and events but he is down to earth and he’s a good guy. He won’t fob you off – if he says he is going to do something, he will do it – even if he was a bit late!
"I have said it before, but having Josh’s support is great for the club. He is Leeds through and through and knows what it means to give everything you have for the white shirt of Leeds.
“Sunday was definitely one of those days where you just enjoy a good day out. It was sunny as usual at Knaresborough, but when you looked around there was a good turnout, lots of kids enjoying the day, Josh signing autographs and having photos with fans, everybody just happy and smiling – even Tingley, who gave a very good account of themselves and were a really good bunch of girls. I think this is exactly what Gary Cooper envisaged in the summer when we started the new club, and I’m glad we’ve got it.”
The win over Tingley seemed to clear the minds of everyone at the club after the hard grind of recent weeks, putting them on a good footing for the return to league action on Sunday at Morecambe, where Leeds will be looking to avenge the late 3–2 defeat inflicted by Morecambe in their last league game.
“Despite yesterday being a good day out it’s well and truly about getting our heads back on and re-focusing now,” says Emma. “We now know what to expect from Morecambe and, with all due respect to Tingley, we need to raise our game a few notches next Sunday. The girls will be working hard in training this week to make sure that happens.”
The happiness at Leeds Ladies this weekend was unfortunately not being shared by football as a whole, as news came through that a fifteen year old player with Cadley FC, Melissa Smith, had died after collapsing during a game that morning.
“After being on such a high, I was gutted when I saw that news,” says Emma. "It instantly put everything into perspective. I thought to myself, who cares if we just won 9–0, who cares if I just got a hat-trick? – a young girl has lost her life playing football.
“My sincere condolences go out to her parents, her family, friends, team mates and all connected with Cadley FC, from myself and from everyone at Leeds Ladies. I hope they can take some comfort in knowing that Melissa died doing something that we all love to do – pulling on that shirt and giving your all for your team.”