leeds ladies expectations remain the same after maiden fa cup winBack
The new Leeds Ladies phoenix club and the world’s oldest cup competition feel made for each other.
The reborn Leeds team played their first ever game, a friendly against Huddersfield, on August 5th; their first competitive game – and win – was August 24th; and on Sunday November 2nd their first FA Cup match ended in a convincing 2–0 home win against Tranmere.
The combination of Leeds’ newest club and football’s oldest cup seems destined to keep producing magic, as the draw for the next round has thrown them into a potential classic FA Cup tie against local rivals Guiseley on December 7th.
“I have felt incredibly proud of every single thing we have done as a team this season,” says Leeds captain Emma Bentley. "Playing a maiden game in the FA Cup has came along as part and parcel of a season I will remember all my footballing life. These girls are my best friends now – I look out for them and they look out for me – and this is a season I will always remember and a team I will never forget.
"I think the FA Cup is special to any player, male or female, professional or amateur – it’s just one of those things that means something. Once the whistle goes I treat it as any other game and go out there to do the business, but when you do take a step back and say it to yourself – ‘I’m playing in the FA Cup’ – it does mean something extra to a league game.
“The league is still the priority, but I love a cup dream as much as anybody, so it would be nice to see how far we can go.”
Leeds weren’t granted an easy start to FA Cup life, with Tranmere the visitors on yet another sunny afternoon at Manse Lane. Leeds’ second game this season was a 3–2 defeat in Tranmere that ended interest in the Premier League Cup, a game Leeds always felt they should have had more from.
“It seems like an awful long time ago now that we played them the first time around,” says Emma. "We were still piecing a team together and seeing how things went. But despite that, I still remember feeling after the game that we didn’t deserve to lose.
“It is sometimes frustrating to look back on those early games and think that if only we had a longer pre-season, we could have hit the ground running and we wouldn’t have to be righting those wrongs now. I suppose it goes to show the potential we have here for making something work with this bunch of girls, and making it work well. I can only think of a couple of occasions this season where I have been disappointed with our performance.”
The performance against Tranmere followed on neatly from the professional job Leeds did last weekend on a windy day in Morecambe. In perfect conditions at Knaresborough Leeds controlled the game from the start, finding a patient click in their passing game that was great to watch and kept Tranmere at arm’s length. Goals on the half hour and the hour, from Hannah Campbell and Emma Bentley, came at the perfect moments along Leeds’ path to the next round.
"I think the performance on Sunday is one that I have known from the start that we are capable of. Every week now I see how well we can pull teams apart and drag them about the pitch to cause openings and opportunities to play. Individually, Tranmere’s midfield three were decent, but the way we played it around them meant we had a lot of space and time, and I think that’s a testament to how well we are starting to work together and understand each other. We can create chances and really dominate teams.
"Hannah’s goal was a great goal. She and Bianca Ross had swapped wings just a few minutes earlier, and she picked up the ball on the left wing and cut inside onto her right foot. She took it past two or three players and was on the edge of the box – I was open for a pass but was thinking to myself, ‘I wouldn’t be passing if I was in her situation,’ so I shouted her to have a go. Instead she took it past one more and then just unleashed a bullet from the edge of the area. I knew as soon as it left her foot that it was going in, it was a cracking finish!
“Mine was nowhere near as spectacular. It came from a corner – the flight of the ball was taking it away from me and I was thinking, ‘I’ll just see what happens and hang around to see if there are any scraps.’ It came off Jodie Hartley and then landed in my path – I had my back to goal but I knew where I was so just hit it on the turn and it went in. I don’t care how they go in, as long as they go in! It was nice to double the advantage and put a bit of light between us and Tranmere. Their keeper had an excellent game so it was important to grab those goals.”
As important as the goals for Leeds was a deserved second clean sheet of the season for goalkeeper Lauryn Colman behind a reorganised defence, with Emily Starkie moving from right to left-back to make room for returning signing Sophie Scargill.
"Catherine Hamill has played at centre back for the last couple of games and I think she and Bridie Hannon are starting to form a great partnership, but everybody is doing a great job wherever they are put. It really shows that all of the girls play for the shirt and sacrifice the ‘me’ for the ‘we’ every time they step out on the pitch.
“It was good to see Shelbey Morris back as substitute on Sunday too, and I’m glad she hasn’t spent too long out. She was in such fine form before her injury that we want to keep that rolling – although I think our physio Kris was covering his eyes every time she went near the ball in case she got hurt again!”
Another significant milestone was marked after the game, when Gary Cooper celebrated his first birthday as a football club chairman.
“We got Gary a cake at training last week, and another cake and a present at the game on Sunday – I think he quite likes the fact that he has thirty new daughters!” says Emma. “But he is definitely a father figure to us and protects us fiercely. And quite frankly, we worship the ground he walks on.”
Victory on Sunday means that Leeds will face more ‘firsts’ as a club in the coming weeks. Previous defeats to Tranmere, Guiseley and Morecambe have all been avenged with wins in return matches, but the coldness of the fixture computer and the glorious randomness of the FA Cup draw means Leeds will face Tranmere again next week in the league, and Guiseley in the FA Cup on December 7th – two teams who now have a point to prove to Leeds.
“I’m getting less and less worried about who turns up week in week out,” says Emma, "But I certainly don’t expect Tranmere to tiptoe back to Manse Lane next week. If anything, they will be fired up and ready to come here and kick us off the park. I’m expecting a battle, but it’s a battle that we’ll be prepared for and one that we’ll relish. Have you ever known a Leeds team not to be up for a bit of a fight?
"The Guiseley draw is obviously massive, meaning three big derbies with them in a matter of months – and when I look at the rest of the draw I’m sure that will be the big game of the day.
"All I want from my girls is to go out and show the grit, passion and determination that has proven popular so far this season. If we add that to the standard of football we have shown we are capable of, then I am sure that we will be fine on the day.
“My hopes and expectations for this season remain the same as they always have – to be proud and show passion, and to do that for the supporters, to do it for the people that saved this club, and to do it for Leeds.”
Leeds Ladies face Tranmere at Manse Lane on Sunday November 9th, kicking off at 2pm; entry is £2 for adults and £1 for kids. Visit LeedsLadiesFC.org.uk, or follow Leeds Ladies FC and the LLFC Supporters Club on Twitter for updates.