“this team means everything to me” – emma bentley on a 10/10 win for leeds ladiesBack
The Italian football press is known for the harshness of its individual player scores, that give no respect to the ‘never lower than a four’ of the English standard.
But they also know when, and how, to recognise particular moments of team brilliance – when they give every single player, sub, squad member, manager, staff member and fan a maximum 10/10.
If any Italian football writers had been drawn in by the floodlights of Yorkshire Amateur’s Bracken Edge ground last night, they’d have had no choice but to crack out the tens and hail Leeds Ladies for their 3–1 over Guiseley Vixens.
I didn’t see any Italians there, so I’ll have to do it: every single one of Leeds Ladies was a ten in this game.
“Every single person connected with this club deserved a 10/10 last night for any part they played,” says Leeds captain Emma Bentley. "Last night was a team coming together, the pieces clicking into place and getting it right – and boy did it go right!
"We have been waiting for that big ‘tonking’ of a club. We didn’t get that last night in terms of the scoreline, but in terms of a physical, mental, footballing battle we had them on the ropes from the first minute, dealt a few blows and then KO’d them in style – just like Josh Warrington will on Saturday night.
“There was only a small pocket of our die-hard fans, compared to what felt like a hell of a lot of Guiseley fans, and most likely a few neutrals who came for a bit of a nosey. But our lot outsang them and gave us the confidence on the pitch to go on and do it.”
In some ways this was a continuation of the way Leeds had ended the home match against Guiseley back in their second league game of the season. Guiseley won that one 6–3, but Leeds had ended the game on top after being 4–1 behind, and left feeling that another half an hour could have been enough to win the game.
It also felt like a wrong was being righted from Sunday, when Leeds lost a game they should have won to a last minute Liverpool winner that left Emma Bentley and her team on the floor.
“At the end of last night I genuinely felt a little bit like I didn’t quite know what to do,” says Emma. "I was completely elated of course, but last night was a tough, tough battle from beginning to end – and I felt physically and emotionally drained.
"An evening game, so you have been up since 6am, at work all day, then quick change, rush your tea (scrambled eggs on toast…) and rush back out again – it puts your pre-match routine out of sync a little bit. Apart from the in-car singing – that never gets neglected.
“Then to turn up and put on a performance like that was brilliant. For me, Guiseley are a stronger side than Liverpool and it once again highlights what we are capable of and how we should have got so much more from the Liverpool game. Last night healed that hurt a little bit.”
There was a clear determination against Guiseley not to let that Liverpool blow happen again. With Jemma White out injured, Bridie Hannon was moved into midfield with Lauren Griffiths and Vicky Fytche, while Erin White formed the centre-back pairing with Emma Bentley.
“The midfield last night were unreal,” says Emma. "They let nothing get past them – at least not without a bit of a scrap and a few bruises!
"Our manager Jak Oldroyd made a very tactical decision to put three players in there with very similar qualities. He had a lot to think about in the run up to the game. Losing Jemma at the weekend was a big blow but Fytchy has come in and staked a massive claim for her shirt.
“The good thing is, Jak has lots of options in there to chose from. We are blessed in central midfield with a long list of quality names – Fytche, Jemma White, Griffiths, Erin White, Ross, Varley – the list goes on. The boss finds himself with a headache over that trio week in, week out – I think its a nice headache for him to have though.”
Lone striker Carey Huegett put in a match-winning performance by keeping the Guiseley defence occupied throughout; but it was Hannah Campbell who made up for a rare non-scoring appearance against Liverpool with two quick first half goals. For the first she pounced on a moment’s indecision to put herself through on goal, and made no mistake one-on-one; for the second a few minutes later, a long cross from Emily Starkie caught out the Guiseley defence and again left Campbell with only the keeper to beat.
Guiseley were given a way back into the game midway through the second half, when after a series of tough challenges in the Leeds’ left back area the referee awarded a penalty for a tackle that looked no tougher than any others, and didn’t even appear to have been inside the box. Lauryn Colman, who put in a top performance on a busy night, couldn’t prevent the goal.
Leeds have been in this situation before, and the goal was a worrying reminder of the 2–2 draw with Chester-le-Street when Leeds let their opponents back in. Guiseley are a better team than Chester, but Leeds Ladies are a better team than they showed that day, and snuffed out the fightback before it got going: a Shelbey Morris corner was turned in by Emma Bentley for the converted striker’s second goal of the season, the captain making a difference on the big occasion just as she did with a vital penalty against Stockport on the first day.
"The goal was from a corner that everybody just seemed to throw themselves at. In defence I don’t get that close to their goal as often as I would like, so even though a corner means a box-to-box run for me to attack and then to return and defend – I’m well up for it! Emily Starkie, as another desperate striker playing at right-back, always gives me evils as I run past her for the corner.
“The goal… the ball comes flying in from Shelbey and I just throw myself into bodies. Then the ball hits the net and everybody jumps on top of me cheering – I’m thinking – yep – I’ll take that! I’m not going to get many chances this season so I need to be an opportunist when the chance arises!”
The game ended on a slight dischord, with Vicky Fytche and a Guiseley counterpart both sent off for a tussle after more strong tackling. A hard game had been played in the right spirit throughout, with neither side declining the slightest opportunity for a crunching challenge, and the red cards could largely be blamed on the referee who was allowing a seventh minute of added time when, at the end of a long, hard night, tempers momentarily snapped.
The game had been long over by that point, with Leeds seeing the match out by keeping the ball in the corners and waiting for the final whistle, with the tension being broken by constant singing from the Leeds fans gathered behind the dugouts.
"Those last fifteen minutes or so seemed to last forever! I think we played about eleven minutes added on. I remember one point in the game when we were absorbing attack after attack after attack; I think I had made three clearing headers in as many minutes.
"We were continually pressing and then having to drop – and I remember looking up to see them coming at us again and thinking, I’m too tired to do this.
"We cleared the ball and I could hear the supporters screaming at us to push out and I knew that I had to regain my focus and find that energy to lead us out again. Some tactical game play in the corner from the attackers gave us that moment we needed just to relax and wait for the whistle.
“I think what stood out for me last night was the lack of noise coming from their bench after our first two goals, and the second half in particular,” says Emma. "Their manager is Julie Grundy, and I have known her since I was seven years old – she was the one who scouted me for Leeds United Ladies. She is a leader, very vocal and talks her team through every game – she did it as a player and she does it now as a manager. She demands high standards. And I barely even heard her in the second half.
“We outplayed them, outsang them and out battled them and I think Grundy had accepted that. It takes a lot to silence her – but we did it. One of my favourite quotes by Mia Hamm is the one that says, ‘You don’t just want to beat a team. You want to leave a lasting impression in their minds so they never want to see your face again.’ I don’t think Guiseley want to see us again for a while.”
The next game comes quickly for Leeds, a home match against Morecambe on Sunday, and amid the euphoria Emma isn’t losing sight of how important it is to keep progressing.
“Morecambe is going to be another tough game. They have faced tough opponents so far and done ok, and from what I have seen on videos they look organised and comfortable on the ball. We need to keep our momentum going now and give them the Mia Hamm treatment. We have been permitted until midnight tonight to enjoy this win and then it is over – heads back on for another cup final to deal with.”
It’s not midnight yet, though, and for Emma, who turned down the chance to move to the division above with Huddersfield in order to lead the Leeds phoenix back from the brink this summer, the game against Guiseley represents what playing for Leeds Ladies is all about.
"This is the feeling that I have been waiting for. Aside from that special feeling against Stockport on the opening day of the season, this is the one that will really stick in my head come the end of season award night.
"The way we were so ‘united’ as a team was amazing. Leeds – the city, the teams, the culture – is something that means so much to me, as I am sure it does for anybody from Leeds. But this team, this team means everything to me. It has done since I was seven years old.
“I’m just so proud of every single one of the girls – the ones on the pitch, the ones on the bench and the ones not in the squad but in our team who came to support. I couldn’t be more proud if I tried.”
Morecombe are the next visitors to Leeds Ladies’ Manse Lane ground in Knaresborough this Sunday at 2pm – entry is £2 for adults and £1 for kids. Follow Leeds Ladies FC and the LLFC Supporters Club on Twitter for updates.