leeds ladies go out of county cup: “we haven’t been bred to stop”Back
Leeds Ladies’ dream of winning the County Cup in their first season together ended with a 4–0 defeat to Bradford City on Wednesday night.
The game put Leeds, fourth in Division One, up against the third placed side in the Premier League; but with the extra edge of a cup semi-final and a Yorkshire derby Leeds were hopeful that underdog status would work in their favour.
“For me, it was the biggest fixture of the competition so far,” says Leeds captain Emma Bentley. “I was really nervous in the build up to the game. We knew we were underdogs and so we could play without any pressure or expectation, but as individuals and as a team we have put pressure on ourselves all season because we want to be the best that we can be.”
The job of pulling off a shock result was made even more difficult after just four minutes when a mix up in defence allowed Bradford to pounce and take an early lead.
It was an early indication of the attacking threat Bradford possessed, and the Leeds defence was then put under almost constant pressure. Leeds did create chances, going close twice in a quick sequence of three successive corners, but the story of the first half was a story of unbowed resistance of Bradford’s attacks, with several big crunching tackles from Fiona Berry and Bridie Hannon to thank for keeping the score 1–0 at half time.
“It was really disheartening to concede so early but I think we responded well – for the rest of the first half we more than held our own and made sure that Bradford knew they were in for a game.
“I loved the toughness of the game. It was hard without being malicious or dirty. Tackles were flying in, but they were full blooded with proper intentions – it was a proper Yorkshire derby.”
The pressure eventually told on Leeds early in the second half; Berry got the final touch on a Bradford corner as she challenged in the air, and three minutes later Bradford broke through Leeds’ defence with a fast move to make it 3–0.
Bradford added a fourth on 85 minutes when a counter attack caught Leeds exposed at the back with a long ball, but Leeds earned a lot of credit for their response to being three goals behind by going back on the attack and playing some of their best football of the night.
“Even when we know we’re beaten, we don’t know we’re beaten,” says Emma. “If you stop when the going gets tough then you let yourself, your team mates and the fans down. We haven’t been bred to do that. What’s the point in turning up if you’re just going to roll over when it gets difficult? We only stop when the final whistle goes, that’s how it always has been and that’s how it always will be.”
Leeds welcomed new signing Nicola Devine for her debut at left-back; while typifying the gutsy Leeds performance and inspiring her teammates throughout was Bridie Hannon; the ex-Bradford player was determined to do well not only against her old club, but in memory of her father.
“Bridie was as solid as ever at the back,” says Emma. “She plays with her heart on her sleeve, and in this game more than ever she had her dad’s heart out there with her and it showed. He would have been proud of the way she played, as I’m sure he’d be proud of the way she plays every game for us.
“I’ve played with Nic before, both for Northumbria University and for Sunderland. She’s an experienced player who can play anywhere on the left; she’s tough, reliable and competitive and I can guarantee she’ll become one of our most consistent good performers.”
Although the result was not what Leeds would have wanted, there were still positives to take from the way Leeds raised their game against one of the Premier League’s best teams, following an FA Cup game against league leaders Coventry and a friendly against second placed Sheffield FC.
“We’ve definitely learned from all these games,” says Emma. “We’ve played the top three teams in the Premier League this season and enjoyed every challenge they’ve presented.
“Yes, we’ve lost the games, but we’ve given a good account of ourselves in all the fixtures. And I wouldn’t find any joy in choosing to play a weaker side just to say we had beaten them. If you’re going to challenge yourself, then challenge yourself against the best.”
There’s no game for Leeds this weekend, but there return to action at Middlesbrough on 22nd March will be the start of a concentrated effort on the remaining league games. Defeat at Stockport last week severely dented Leeds chances of catching Liverpool and Guiseley for the single promotion place, but Leeds’ aims haven’t changed.
“Win every game. Stockport might have been the final nail in our chances, and that does hurt a bit; but I still have the results against Liverpool and Chester-le-Street haunting me anyway.
“The objective has never changed, we just try to win every game. That might not be enough to win the league, but we aim for it anyway.”