seven-goal leeds ladies ready for league runBack
Leeds Ladies are through to the semi-final of the County Cup after a 7–0 win at Ossett Albion.
The win was a welcome return to match action for Leeds, who like many WPL sides have had a scrappy start to 2015 due to postponements.
The year’s scheduled league opener at home to Middlesbrough was called off on January 4th, and this game against Ossett was held back a week due to the weather last Sunday, meaning this weekend’s scheduled trip to Liverpool Feds will need to be rearranged.
All in all Leeds, who ended 2014 with the momentum of seven consecutive wins, went into this weekend with only the FA Cup match at Coventry under their belts since beating Mossley Hill 5–2 on 14th December.
“This year has felt disjointed, and it has been really frustrating at times,” says Leeds captain Emma Bentley. “We had such a good run going before Christmas and even though we needed a break physically, we really wanted to keep the momentum going.”
Winter so far has been relatively mild, but teams across the WPL have suffered from being scheduled to play on Sunday on pitches that have been used for men’s games on Saturday.
“Unfortunately women’s football has always been second best to the men in so many aspects of the game,” says Emma. "But the worst is not being able to get your fixture played because you share a ground that is being protected for a men’s team. That has happened to me for as long as I can remember.
“We didn’t want a week off last week. We wanted to get back on the pitch and put the Coventry game behind us. That match was a learning curve but we didn’t need to dwell on it too much. We’re all just desperate to get back to the task at hand and keep fighting on.”
The main task for Leeds this season is league success, but this County Cup match was a great chance to set up a semi-final against either Bradford City or Wetherby Athletic, and Leeds didn’t wait to stamp their authority on the game.
With just a minute gone Shelbey Morris cut inside the Ossett full-back from the left, and the goalkeeper couldn’t handle the shot from the edge of the area. The lead was doubled inside ten minutes when Ossett failed to properly clear a corner and Bridie Hannon found the top corner from just outside the D.
It was 5–0 by halftime, the third coming after Hannah Campbell outfought two defenders and Emma Bentley pounced on the loose ball to fire home left-footed from ten yards; Sarah Lawn scored the fourth, picking the ball up outside the area and, after skinning one defender, slalomed past two more and finished from close range; Lauren Griffiths made it five just before the break when with a backheel she plucked an Ossett clearance out of the air, and she lashed the ball into the roof of the net.
Despite the lead, Leeds had found it difficult to impose a pattern on the game. Ossett were set-up to defend in numbers against a team from several steps up the leagues; and while Leeds showed no mercy when punishing defensive mistakes, with so much of the game squeezed into Ossett’s defensive third Leeds couldn’t play with their normal fluency.
“I think the game was very scrappy in parts and I cant imagine it was pretty to watch,” says Emma. "We felt just as frustrated on the pitch that their style of defending was breaking up our passing game that we are used to. Credit to Ossett though – I think that was their plan!
"Our manager had made a few changes to the way he wanted us to play and we had worked on them in training a during the week. Sunday was a good opportunity to try those new ideas and they were fairly successful, and I can see them working for us in the long run.
“But as always when trying new things, it isn’t going to work perfectly straight away – it needs practise. We were still shaking off some cobwebs and we certainly weren’t as sharp as we would have liked. That’s always going to happen with disruption to fixtures – you can train as much as you like but match play is completely different.”
A better performance in the second half ironically drew fewer goals, as Leeds stuck to patient, passing football when faced with a packed Ossett defence.
“I think we played much better football in the second half, but we were attacking such an unnatural line-up that it was difficult to break them down. Ossett basically stuck ten players in the box and said, ‘Get through that then.’ Had we played in the first half the kind of football we tried to play in the second, we would have scored a hatful.”
The sixth goal came right at the start of the second half. Hannah Campbell had been on the receiving end of some of Ossett’s more desperate tackling in the first half, but evaded them all when she was released down the right and, cutting into the penalty area, hammered the ball into the roof of the net. Leeds had to wait until ten minutes from time for the seventh, when Olivia Smart played a one-two down the left with Griffiths that sent her into the box and, after her shot was saved, Emily Starkie drilled the rebound low into the corner from the edge of the box.
The seventh goal meant Leeds had seven different scorers on the day, and while they might be ruthless enough to end the game wishing there had been more, Leeds could end the day pleased to have got more time on the pitch this year, to have got themselves one game closer to County Cup glory, and one week closer to getting back to league action.
“The County Cup is not a glamorous path by any means!” says Emma. "But it will hopefully be worth it if we can keep going.
"But now I’m ready for league games again and being back to business. I was ready as soon as the match finished on Sunday! I have looked at the league loads of times in the last few weeks and it hasn’t changed – I always know it hasn’t, because there haven’t been any games played, but I find myself looking anyway, just in case!
“I continuously go into the mathematics of who has what games left and who could beat who, where points might be dropped – I could give myself a headache with it all. But I always come back to the same conclusion: if we win all our games that’s the most we can do.”
The County Cup semi-final is scheduled for March 11th, leaving – weather permitting – a clear run of league fixtures for Leeds in the coming weeks, starting with a trip to Tranmere on Sunday February 1st, before Sheffield come to Knaresborough on Sunday 8th.
“I’m hoping thats it for postponements now,” says Emma. “Here we go with the big run in until the end of the season. Finishing up with what might end up being a last game of the season, winner-takes-all rearranged fixture against Liverpool. Sometimes you think these things have been planned this way!”