seven again for leeds ladies in league returnBack
Leeds Ladies made a long-awaited return to league football with a 7–0 win over Sheffield United that took them up to third place in the table.
Hannah Campbell opened the scoring on half an hour, and then the goals came two by two for Shelbey Morris, Bianca Ross and Jemma White, as Leeds rediscovered the form that brought them seven wins in a row before cup games and winter weather postponements interrupted their progress up the league.
Leeds led 2–0 at half-time after a difficult opening half that was disrupted by an injury to top scorer Carey Huegett that took her from the field after ten minutes; despite having most of the ball, Leeds struggled to match possession with the fluency needed to break down a solid Sheffield defence.
The invitation to put pressure on Sheffield meant that Leeds were often able to leave just central defenders Bridie Hannon and Catherine Hamill at the back, but the overloaded Sheffield half didn’t leave much room to play, or to release Leeds’ wingers, Hannah Campbell and substitute Shelbey Morris. Campbell looked most likely to make something happen down the right, but Leeds came closest when a long range drive from Lauren Griffiths hit the crossbar.
Clever movement among the front three led to the breakthrough after half an hour. Ross drifted wide left and, fed by Morris, sent over a cross that Hannah Campbell, cutting in from the right, stroked past the goalkeeper with a side-footed volley. Five minutes later it was 2–0; this time Ross passed to Shelbey Morris on the edge of the penalty area, and she turned between two defenders and scored with an early snapshot.
Leeds deserved the half-time lead but also needed to improve the performance, and with a more disciplined style in the second half they made the most of possession without being drawn into Sheffield’s defensive gridlock. The full backs found more space to supply the midfield and wingers, and Sophie Scargill’s performance down the right earned her player of the match; it was Bianca Ross and Shelbey Morris who combined again for the fourth goal, Ross’s cross headed securely into the top of the net by Morris from close range.
With the addition of converted forward Emily Starkie’s runs from left back Sheffield began to look overrun. Pressure on a lost cause from Starkie and Morris down the left caused panic in the defence and Leeds had a quick succession of shots ending with a good save from Campbell; she was first to the rebound and set up Bianca Ross to make it 4–0.
Leeds, six points behind the league leaders with a game in hand, began to have an eye for the goal difference, but it took until the last five minutes for them to get the rewards of the second half performance. From the right Morris pulled the ball back for Jemma White to score; Bianca Ross needed no help scoring her second as she took on and beat the Sheffield defence straight through the middle; and then Ross bagged another assist and White took the goal of the game: Ross’s scooped ball over the top took Sheffield’s defence out of the game, and White met it with a crashing volley across the keeper into the top of the net.
Leeds’ long awaited return to league action proved to be worth waiting for, although wins for Liverpool and a late comeback by Guiseley to win from 3–1 down against Mossley Hill meant the top two remained tantalisingly out of reach. Captain Emma Bentley missed the game due to work commitments, but still celebrated the result from a ski slope.
"I’m in Peio, Italy at the moment, skiing! Corpus Christi have an annual ski trip and I’m here as part of my job. It’s great fun and I love skiing; and I have to admit, the 87 children we have with us are actually a delight.
“I just wish I could be in two places at once, but I wasn’t in any doubt that the girls would do the job. I kept an eye on the other scores as well and taking third place is fine for now, we did what we needed to do. I’ve heard that Jem popped up with a worldie – about time Luca!”
Enforced absence from games is an unavoidable fact for most womens’ teams, but that doesn’t make it any easier for the players when they’re away come kick-off time.
“Football isn’t my job, I don’t get paid to do it, so that means that I have to miss games or training now and then for things like parents evenings or residential trips like this,” says Emma. "As a teacher, my summer holiday should be taken in July or August during the school holidays, but that also happens to be our preseason so I’m often on my holiday with my running trainers. Sometimes the other girls have to miss games because they have to work or for example Bianca might have a fixture for the army team – she has to prioritise the army fixture over us because they are her employers.
"I sent a good luck message before the game and when I got back from the slopes I knew it was still being played. The wifi here isn’t good enough to listen to the live streaming but I was messaging (club secretary) Nicola to get updates.
“I was so glad we were doing the job back home. But also a little bit jealous – I wanted to be there! Well done to the girls and thank you to Bridie Hannon for stepping in to take the armband. But now I’m itching to get back, I can’t wait to get the shirt and the armband back on!”
The team will have to wait again for their next chance in the league; the Middlesbrough game postponed from just after new year has been put back again from the coming weekend due to Middlesbrough’s cup commitments. The club’s progress off the field continues uninterrupted, though, with the confirmation of a three-year sponsorship deal with Macron.
Leeds have been wearing Macron kit all season, but the sponsorship takes the partnership to the next level, and the players and staff are now supplied with a full range of training clothing and equipment.
“We are extremely excited about this new partnership with Leeds Ladies FC,” says Gianluca Pavanello, Macron CEO. “As a brand we see female football as a key and integral sport that requires our investment to help the sport continue its phenomenal growth across Europe and the globe. We are really proud to be the technical sponsor of these athletes and we look forward to watching them develop into international football stars.”