leeds ladies hit form: “we just need to be leeds”Back
Leeds Ladies shook off the disappointment of last week’s defeat to Stockport and hit their stride again with a dominant win at Chorley, ready for Wednesday nights cup semi-final against Bradford.
On a narrow, muddy pitch and up against a side that has been near the top of the division all season, Leeds kept faith with the passing game that made them serious title contenders before going down 2–1 at Stockport, and that will keep them in the hunt for glory until the last possible moment this season.
“I want to say that I hope the people watching were happier with yesterday’s performance, and we really do appreciate the magnificent support that we get,“ says Leeds captain Emma Bentley. ”But Sunday was about the girls proving to ourselves how well we can play for each other. Remembering the fights and battles we’ve gone through to get where we are, and doing it for us – and I’m glad we did that.
“We spoke on the bus about what needed to be done, about making amends for the performance last week. We weren’t nervous. We were very focused on putting right the wrongs of last week.”
Those determined plans were almost scuppered at the outset when a morning men’s game on the same pitch put the match in doubt. Then, when the game did go ahead, Leeds conceded to go 1–0 down after two minutes.
“When we heard they were waiting for the ref to arrive and call the game off we weren’t having any of it,” says Emma. “We got our kit on and went out to warm up anyway – we hadn’t travelled all that way just to go home again.
“When the game started and we went behind so quickly, I have to be honest, I was a bit worried. After the hurt of last week that could have killed us off – there was a danger that our heads would go down. But that didn’t happen. We found that Leeds spirit to fight back and get ourselves back in the game. After that, especially in the second half, we were relentless.”
To take advantage of the narrow Chorley pitch, Leeds lined up in an unfamiliar 3–5–2 formation that did create some uncertainty under a barrage of long balls from Chorley. Leeds’ faith in their own ability and their own plan didn’t waver, however, and they were level before half-time when Bentley beat a defender to the front post to meet a cross from Bianca Ross, and fired the ball between post and goalkeeper.
Leeds were in charge without adding to the scoreline before half-time, but within ten minutes of the start of the second half, the game was theirs. First Emily Starkie collected the ball near the corner and scored with a long range effort to the far top corner from a narrow angle, and just minutes later Hannah Campbell was the last player in a fluid move from left to right across the pitch and, one-on-one with the keeper, she made no mistake.
Campbell added another later in the half, and her characteristic drives from the right wing almost created a goal for Lauren Griffiths, who hit the post from close range. Chorley’s strong team were a danger throughout, but couldn’t resist Leeds when they attacked in this mood.
“I really enjoyed playing up front with Bianca this weekend,” says Emma. “I have been speaking to the manager and working in training on different kinds of runs I can make, for example getting across the first defender and attacking the front post to meet a driven cross. So when Binx made her run down the wing and took on a couple of players I had a chance to get there and meet her cross; I got a nice few studs down the back of my calf for my troubles but it was worth it to bring us back level.
“Some people will believe Starkie’s goal was a cross, but she says it was a shot, and I believe her – mainly because if she’s within fifty yards of the goal, and she can see it, she’s always going to shoot!
“Hannah’s first was a really good goal too; there was some nice passing and setbacks leading up to the through ball that gave her the chance to finish. It looked very similar to some passing patterns we’ve been working on in training.”
In the closing stages Leeds had their swagger back. The ball was theirs and, while the team continued to work hard to keep Chorley from getting back into the game, the speed and quality of the passing made it clear that Leeds were enjoying feeling like Leeds again.
“We were positive at half-time that, despite the early slip-up, we were working hard and on top of the game. The last thing I said to the girls before the second half was to make sure none of it went to waste.
“By the end when we were playing those nice triangles and calculating when we could pull off the odd fancy pass it felt nice and fluent. I think part of that was because Chorley were tiring and we weren’t. We have a new strength and conditioning coach, Nat, and she has been working us hard in training. I feel really bad because we all moan at her – a lot – and I think she thinks we don’t like her! But we do like her – we just don’t like what she makes us do!
“The work is starting to pay off, though. In the later stages we were still able to play with tempo; and even last week, when things weren’t working, we still threw everything at Stockport for the full ninety minutes. I’m sure we’ll stop moaning at Nat soon!”
Another significant help to Leeds was the return from injury of Erin White, who played seventy minutes in her first start since before Christmas and was awarded player of the match by her team mates.
“There are so many things you could say about Erin White, but until you watch her or play on a team with her, you can’t understand just how good she is,” says Emma. “But you have to actually watch her, because she won’t stand out at first. Then when you do see what she does, she’s unreal.
“She breaks up play, throws in crunching tackles, she’ll make successive tackles on two, three or even four players in a row, all to win the ball for Leeds, then sends a simple pass to the right player to get us going again.
“She has a cool head but there’s this fire inside that never goes out. She never loses her temper but she’s always fired up. She does the simple things right, and for me, that’s what make a class player. And Ezza is class.”
Level heads were necessary for Leeds this week after the cold water shock of losing to Stockport, as the team looked for a way back to form.
“I do feel very protective over this team,” says Emma. “I accept that last week we weren’t good enough, but I felt cross because we’ve been so much better than anybody expected this season, I felt like we could be allowed one bad week where things didn’t go right. I think because the team bond is so strong I feel like I want to stick up for the players, even if sometimes there isn’t anything I can do.
“As captain of this bunch I just want to make everything alright for everyone, so that they never have to be upset and everything can always go well. We put ourselves out there every week and we have to expect that, sometimes, people are going to say things that we don’t want to hear, and we have to deal with that.
“The fact is, it can’t always go well, but all I can do is be there and take as many bullets for them as I can. As a senior player and captain, I feel like that’s part of my job.”
The next job for Leeds is a game that has almost been forgotten about amid the pressure of building a league title challenge: Wednesday night’s County Cup semi-final clash against Bradford City, a replay of last season’s final, that Bradford won 3–1.
“It seems to have crept up so quickly!” says Emma. “Suddenly it’s here, and it’s only now with the Chorley game out the way that our attention has turned to it. We have to be honest: nobody expects us to turn up on Wednesday and win. Bradford are a cracking team and doing well in the division above us. Everyone loves an underdog, though.
“We just need to be Leeds; to go out there and, as always, leave everything we have on the pitch.”
The County Cup semi-final against Bradford City will be played at West Riding County FA Headquarters at Fleet Lane, Oulton, on Wednesday 11th March; kick off is 7.45pm.