leeds ladies win hard-fought fa cup derby: “we proved we could do it again”Back
Leeds Ladies are through to the FA Cup Second Round, after winning 1–0 in a tense match against city rivals Guiseley Vixens.
“I really am running out of words to praise this team,” says Leeds captain Emma Bentley. “It’s unbelievable.”
Before the game Emma described this as a match about “bragging rights to the city” after a win each in this season’s league clashes, and Leeds had to work hard to claim those rights. The match was switched to AFC Emley’s Welfare Ground, which provided classic cup-tie conditions – rain, wind, snow and sunshine in a constant cycle – while injuries meant an altered Leeds line-up, with regular forward Carey Huegett deputising in goal and Bentley playing as a lone striker ahead of a packed Leeds midfield.
“I was nervous before the game because I was so desperate to do well,” says Emma. "I knew the management were using their heads with the line-up, but I was worried we would be caught off guard if we protected players for the next game – and I just couldn’t bear the thought of losing!
“But whoever plays, this team always comes through. Kez was absolutely outstanding in goal. There are no two ways about it, she was unbelievable, and I would be saying that even if she was a recognised goalkeeper. She came out and swept up when needed, commanded her area and pulled off some absolutely amazing saves. She didn’t get the player of the match award, but she was my pick of the day.”
The game was as hard fought as expected, with an under-pressure Leeds side continuing the patient, passing football that has become a trademark under manager Jak Oldroyd, and attacking with pace down the wings through Bianca Ross and Hannah Campbell, who swapped sides and tortured Guiseley’s defenders all game. Campbell had scored in the two previous meetings, and was a target for the Guiseley players who consistently brought her down rather than let her anywhere near the goal.
“We will always try to play the right football, passing and moving to create space,” says Emma. "We don’t want to change our style to suit a team, a game or conditions. Obviously we have to do that at times with our formation or personnel, but I think the way we actually play is the right way to play and we will always aim to do that.
“It didn’t matter what side Hannah was on, she had both full-backs in her pocket all game. Whenever Hannah gets the ball with space in front of her and she takes that big first touch I think, ‘that’s too heavy’; but she’s so fast that’s it’s always the perfect distance ahead for her to turn on the pace and get away from the defender. Some wingers use flicks and tricks, but Hannah is no frills, she knocks it past them and says right, let’s have a foot race, and she always wins.”
The deciding goal came early in the second half with all three forwards involved and Hannah Campbell in the thick of it. Receiving the ball from Jemma White in the centre circle, Bentley turned and curled a perfectly weighted pass for Campbell, putting her through down the right hand side, and as Campbell powered towards goal she was again hacked down on the edge of the box. Bianca Ross stepped up to take the free kick, and curled it left footed low inside the far post to trigger a full-team celebration and give Leeds a crucial advantage.
"Bianca put it in a dangerous area, right across the front of the keeper. I was so close to it and waiting in case the keeper made a save and fumbled it so I could jump onto it, but it took a wicked bounce at the perfect moment to catch the keeper off guard. I was so happy to see that go in – it felt like I had scored!
“The game felt tense throughout. Even at 1–0 up we knew that if there was any slip up they would be back in it. I’d missed two chances in the first half, and I kept thinking about the difference those could have made.”
Emma had to dig deep for her own performance, adapting to a lone striker role which meant constant running off the ball to keep the Guiseley defenders under pressure.
"I’ve always been an out-and-out striker, but I’m used to playing as a two – I prefer having someone to feed off, someone I can play balls to and latch on to their passes. As I’ve got older I’ve dropped into deeper, almost midfield positions and I think that suits me – I love facing up to goal and seeing the game in front of me.
"So I had a hard job and personally I wasn’t happy with how I performed. I’ll be honest – the two early chances knocked me a bit. The first miss was just totally disastrous! I didn’t expect to end up through on goal – I chased down a pass to a Guiseley defender and she made a mistake, and suddenly I was on the edge of the area with only the keeper to beat. I wasn’t sure how much time I had or who was closing in on me, but it turns out I could have had a cup of tea before I took that shot! I can make excuses all day but I know I made the wrong decision.
“It was very early on in the game and I was gutted, because I knew there wouldn’t be many more golden chances like that. A minute or two later Guiseley shot narrowly wide and I was breathing a huge sigh of relief inside.”
Leeds actually continued created the better of the chances, with Ross having a certain second goal superbly saved by the Guiseley keeper, and Jemma White volleying narrowly over the bar. As the clock ran down and Guiseley threw everything forward for an equaliser they did get the ball in the Leeds net, but it was ruled out for offside.
The resolute defensive performance and commitment to the team was perfectly illustrated when 17 year old defender Catherine Hamill yet again got the better of a one-on-one with a Guiseley forward and her composed defending provoked a reaction, a tussle, and a quiet word from the referee.
“When Catherine Hamill was getting into a scrap and then getting a telling off for it, I was absolutely howling!” says Emma. “She’s about seven stone wet through – how can she be scrapping with anybody? The player she was up against is an experienced head, but Cath was none the wiser – she just did what she does every time and won the ball, and I think Guiseley were frustrated by how good she was.”
With the FA Cup second round and city pride at stake, personal performances had to be put to one side and it was all-in for Leeds, as the game came down to which team wanted it more.
“This was always going to be a sleeves up, gritted teeth battle,” says Emma. "That’s just down to the rivalry between us, and Guiseley were out to wind us up. Guiseley have a lot of really good players and, individually, the names on their team sheet are top class. But they just don’t work as a team like Leeds do. They don’t have each others backs like we do – I’m not sure, if the chips were down, that they would sacrifice themselves for the team to the extent that we do.
"Maybe that spirit has bred within us because of the fact that we came from nothing this season. We were thrown together at the lowest point possible and we were forced to build a bond. It was do or die.
“It was nice to prove that we could do it again. We faced a big game here where a team was really out for revenge on us – and we beat them again. We are up for those kinds of scraps. Yes, we love to play the nice football that entertains the fans, but if we need to, we will roll our sleeves up and work hard for a win. I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty any day.”
The draw for the FA Cup second round has given Leeds one of the toughest tests available, away to Coventry Ladies, who sit joint top of the WPL Northern and have lost only one game this season. Leeds, however, will be approaching them like any other opponent.
“I’m doing my age-old thing of being caught between saying, okay, we’ve had our cup win and beaten our rivals, now let’s concentrate on the league table,” says Emma. "And thinking, another game! Another game! Let’s win it!
“This will be a good test for us against the standard of team we hope to playing regularly next year, so it will be a good marker. They are top of the WPL with ten wins, one draw and one loss – if we are going to pit ourselves against any team, why not choose the best?”
The league does remain the priority for Leeds, and on Sunday 14th they end 2014 with a game that, while it lacks the local derby edge of beating Guiseley in the cup, is just as big and even more important.
“The game against Mossley Hill on Sunday is massive,” says Emma. "The Guiseley game was big because of the rivalry, but this is big because of the most important reason of all – the end goal of promotion.
“Our win away at Mossley two weeks ago really showed our potential – for me that has been our biggest test so far, and we nailed it. We will go out there on Sunday and treat it like every other game – business to do, a game to win. Nothing less than a win is good enough.”
Leeds Ladies play Mossley Hill at Manse Lane, Knaresborough, on Sunday December 14th at 2pm. Visit LeedsLadiesFC.org.uk, or follow Leeds Ladies FC and the LLFC Supporters Club on Twitter for updates.