leeds ladies win seventh in a row – “those stats are made from hard work”Back
Leeds Ladies go into the Christmas break in third place in the league after extending their winning run to seven games against Mossley Hill.
At the halfway point of the season Leeds are two points behind second-placed Guiseley Vixens and six behind leaders Liverpool Marshalls Feds, with a game in hand on each, and are well-placed to challenge for the title and the single promotion place in 2015.
Sunday’s win over Mossley Hill meant a six point haul against a team who had themselves been in second place before facing Leeds home and away in the last month.
Leeds captain Emma Bentley had described the 2–0 away win at the end of November as the toughest test of the season so far, and keeping Mossley Hill at bay when they came to Knaresborough looking for revenge was always going to be a challenge.
“I wouldn’t say we were confident because we knew what a battle it was at their place,” says Emma. "We know what kind of football we are capable of now, but Manse Lane has got a reputation as a bit of a fortress of late and teams turn up here really fired up and ready to beat us.
“We knew that Mossley would be out for revenge and we didn’t want to go into the Christmas break with a loss to break our winning streak. In the pre-match huddle Lauren Griffiths said, ‘I’ll have such a crap Christmas if we lose today, girls,’ and I think we all agreed with that – we didn’t want to spoil our unbeaten run.”
After the battle of last weekend’s FA Cup win over Guiseley Leeds took some time to return to the relaxed passing football that had seen off Mossley in the away game, and went a goal behind after twenty minutes when a prone Emily Starkie was judged to have handballed.
“I think we were on top of the battle until the penalty,” says Emma. "We definitely had more chances. It didn’t feel tense on the pitch, it felt a bit more like frustration that we were lacking that quality on the final ball.
"The tension set in a little after the penalty. I think the only time we have ever had to come from behind was against Stockport on the first day, and I was a little bit worried about how we would react.
“I knew we had plenty of time to turn things around, and I was looking around at everyone’s faces asking, ‘are they up for this?’ Because we really needed to show character in those early stages of the match. The ref had made what we thought was an error, and we felt hard done by. I knew our players were up for it, we always are, but this was a bit of unknown territory, and there was a lot at stake.”
An equaliser before half-time felt vital, but Leeds have developed a habit of hitting their vital targets in recent games and a goal came through Shelbey Morris with ten minutes to spare: drifting in from the left wing, Shelbey met a cross from Carey Huegett on the half-volley and lofted it over the Mossley goalkeeper.
“That was a good goal and it came at the perfect time. We needed to go in at half-time at least level, or else the second half might have become a struggle. That goal was really important.”
With the scores level and the injustice of the penalty overcome, Leeds wasted no time asserting themselves in the second half. Within three minutes Leeds were ahead through Emma Bentley, who with her back to goal controlled an outswinging corner at the edge of the box, swivelled, and shot low past the goalkeeper from eighteen yards; five minutes later it was 3–1, as this time Bentley fed Morris on the edge of the box, who nudged the ball back to Huegett who hit it first time. “Kez’s goal was a beauty,” says Emma, “Curled into the top corner from the edge of the area.”
The two goal cushion should have given Leeds time to relax, but Mossley’s determination to get something from the game unsettled Leeds after the third goal. Passing the ball at the back, Leeds succumbed to pressure from Mossley’s forwards and let them in to concede only their third goal in seven games.
“There were a few moments when the defence were trying to give me a heart attack I think!” says Emma. “Mossley’s striker was frustrated all game but was running down everything, and she almost nipped onto a couple of stray passes from the defence. All the girls always try to play passing football rather than just hoof it, but sometimes it just has to go!”
Despite losing the two goal advantage, Leeds lost none of their will to control the game in midfield, with Lauren Griffiths and Erin White dominating the middle and Bianca Ross and Shelbey Morris in relentless form down the wings. Mossley’s season so far has shown they are no pushovers, but Leeds kept them at arm’s length until Huegett scored another well-timed goal with twenty minutes to go, lobbing the goalkeeper from just outside the box as Bentley followed in to make sure the keeper’s scrambled attempts to keep it out came to nothing.
With two minutes left Emily Starkie finally got her reward for bombing forward from right-back all season, and overcame the penalty decision and a fussy booking for moving the ball at a free kick by finishing off the scoring for Leeds with her first league goal of the campaign. It was another effort from the edge of the box that dipped under the crossbar for five – setting a new record at the new club for the most team goals scored in a league game.
“At 3–2 I still felt fairly relaxed – it felt like we were on top and we were creating all the chances,” says Emma. "It was really all up to us – we just had to keep doing the simple things right and we knew that more would come.
"I think we are very strong going forward. There are so many names on the team sheet that you can look at and think, ‘She could get a goal or two today.’ We have scored 37 goals in the last seven games. But then again, we have only conceded three – so I think that highlights just how strong we are all over the park.
“A lot of those statistics I believe are made from hard work. We have a squad of players here who are just as willing to track back and defend as they are to burst forward and try to get a goal.”
The stats since Leeds swept aside a tiring extra-time cup defeat to Southampton Saints in mid-October tell part of the story, but just as significant as the seven straight wins, 37 goals scored, and three conceded is what has been achieved while those numbers have been rung up: Leeds go into 2015 in the quarter-finals of the County Cup, the second round of the FA Cup, and with momentum taking them to the top of the league.
“I’m ending the year very happy,” says Emma. "It feels like since that game against Saints we have just gone from strength to strength. The last two months have been fantastic.
“Our next objective is to keep going with this winning streak as long as we possibly can. We know that we need to win every single game to give ourselves a chance of winning the league. 2015 could be a very big year for Leeds Ladies – we all need to make sure that we do our individual jobs and give ourselves the very best chance of promotion.”
To help with the promotion push, Leeds announced an addition to the management team before the game against Mossley Hill, with Doncaster Belles development manager Gaz Lee joining Leeds as first team manager, bringing together again what the club are calling the “dream team” combination with Jak Oldroyd that made the Development squad one of the few bright spots of last season’s Leeds United Ladies.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without Jak,” says Emma. "In the summer when we had nothing, Jak stood up and pledged his commitment to this club. That will never be forgotten. He has shown passion, desire and total dedication to us girls and we are truly grateful.
“The addition of Gaz as first team manager will only continue to strengthen this club and move us forward. Jak and Gaz work very well together as a team, they have shown that before, and I am sure that they will show it again. I am 100% confident that fans will quickly take to Gaz when they see just how focused and determined he is to make this club the very best version of itself that it can possibly be.”
Ever since the lows of the summer Leeds Ladies FC have been gathering momentum, exceeding anybody’s expectations from the start of the season, and becoming a better version of itself than anybody could have imagined. But as the club looks forward to how far it can go in 2015, Emma hasn’t forgotten the lessons of the tough times.
"I can honestly say that this season so far has been one of the most memorable seasons of my playing career. I have never felt this passionate about a team. I have never wanted a team to do well so much as with these girls. They are my best friends and to share this journey so far with them, and with everybody else off the field, has just been phenomenal.
"I know it is easy to say all of these things when everything is rosy and we are winning and doing well. But there have been downs as well as ups along the way. Remember that last minute against Liverpool? And the disappointment of Chester Le Street? It hasn’t always been cupcakes and fairy wings.
"But even during those moments, I couldn’t have felt more proud to be wearing that shirt. We might look back at the end of the season and rue those dropped points, but I will know, hand on heart, that win or lose – this season has been something special. Nothing is going to change that. I didn’t even know the names of 90% of this team five months ago, and now I would do anything for them, for us, to stop us from ever losing.
“You could say we have already exceeded expectations for this season, but we’re not done yet. I’m looking forward to next year already. I will take a week or so to enjoy Christmas and then get back into it. We are back in training before the New Year so I’ll probably be seeing in 2015 with an orange juice, but it will be worth it for what we have coming up. I’m looking forward to the Middlesbrough game already!”
The first game of 2015 is at home to Middlesbrough on Sunday January 4th, at Manse Lane, Knaresborough. Visit LeedsLadiesFC.org.uk, or follow Leeds Ladies FC and the LLFC Supporters Club on Twitter for updates.