leeds ladies lose at stockport: “it hurts we didn’t perform to our full potential”Back
Leeds Ladies’ hopes of challenging for the title faltered in Stockport on Sunday, where they failed to take advantage of Liverpool’s own slip last weekend to narrow the gap to the top.
While Leeds endured yet another postponement last weekend, Liverpool’s defeat at Middlesbrough had left Leeds nine points off the top of the table with three games in hand.
The gap widened again to twelve points after an uncharacteristic performance left Leeds looking second best against a Stockport side who should be further up the table than seventh.
Both teams packed the midfield and the game was set up to be a battle, and with neither side dominant in the early stages it was Leeds who were making the better chances. They took what looked like a vital lead after quarter of an hour, when pressure on the goalkeeper from Emma Bentley gave Jemma White a chance to shoot from distance; her shot was saved, and Bentley raced ahead of Stockport’s defenders to get to the rebound first and fire the ball underneath the keeper into the back of the net.
That goal turned out to be Leeds’ best moment, as Stockport took a grip of the midfield that they didn’t let go for the rest of the game. Pressure on the Leeds defence turned into an equaliser ten minutes before half-time, and continued until the break gave Leeds a chance to regroup.
“At half-time, at 1–1, the game felt winnable,” says Leeds captain Emma Bentley. “It was a battle, the conditions didn’t make it enjoyable, but it didn’t feel like we were heading for a loss. We talked at half-time about how we knew it hadn’t been a good performance so far, and we needed to pick things up.
“There were bits and pieces all over the park where we were just that 1% short of where we needed to be; and when the league is as fragile as it is, that 1% is vitally important.”
Leeds brought on two substitutes for the second half, but before they could make an impact Stockport took a controversial lead. While Leeds were setting up a wall to defend a free kick on the edge of the penalty area, Stockport took it quickly and lobbed the ball into an unprotected net.
“That goal killed the rest of the game,” says Emma. “We’d struggled with the officials before that, but the referee ignited total chaos by letting that goal stand. I could go on and on about the referee but it won’t change the score, or the way we played after that.”
Leeds’ first competitive game after reforming in the summer had been a comeback against Stockport on the opening day of the season, but this time they could find no way back into a match that Stockport dominated; constantly beating Leeds’ players to the ball and passing calmly and accurately where Leeds looked panicked and wayward. Leeds did create chances in a frenetic final ten minutes as they attempted to save at least a point, but failure to take them and failure to get the better of Stockport only seemed to increase the frustration.
Tempers were lost in the final minutes as Stockport slowed the game down to seal the points, and both sides were lucky to keep eleven players on the pitch after an injury time scrap.
“I think frustration just boiled over,” says Emma. “Frustration at the referee, the game, the scoreline, the whole situation.
“We knew we were running out of time, we were pressing forward and throwing everything at them, but Stockport were standing strong. We faced a combination of us having an off day and them having a good one, and by the end we knew deep down we weren’t going to salvage anything.
“I just didn’t know what I could do to help. I think most of us felt the same. It’s been said that we were poor, but I still believe there wasn’t a single player that didn’t give their all in this game – our all just wasn’t enough. I don’t believe that this team goes out on a pitch to give anything less than 100% for the shirt, and it hurts that we didn’t perform to our full potential.
“As captain, I will stand at the front and apologise to everyone for our performance, but we will always try. I refuse to believe that any of our girls went home after the game and didn’t care, and when they’re hurting I have to defend them for that.”
One bright spot on a low day for Leeds was the debut from the bench of Bethanie Davies, who has been rewarded for good form in the Development Squad with a call up to the first team.
“Beth was very good when she came on,” says Emma. “She must have been nervous, coming in to the type of game she did, but she managed to get a few runs at their defence and really show her potential. Once she finds her feet in the first team and gets going, Beth will be great. She’s been working hard in training and doing well, and I’m pleased she’s getting her chance.”
Postponements and cup interests have meant the defeat at Stockport was only the second league game Leeds have played this year, putting their attempt at the title on pause while the team struggles to get any momentum and, as Liverpool and Guiseley continue to play and pick up wins, increasing the size of Leeds’ task if they’re to catch them.
“2015 so far just hasn’t been the memorable year we built it up to be,” says Emma. “I feel as though we’ve hardly played and have been plagued by every curse possible to stop us gathering any sort of momentum.
“We knew going for the title was going to be hard, and we knew days like this could happen; and we chose to go for it. We are a talented team and we want to do well, and when you go for great rewards, you need to take risks.
“Momentum is what we need. We need to not get hung up on going for the title, and just enjoy ourselves and enjoy playing when we get the chance. We’ve already achieved much more than anybody expected this season, so let’s keep going, play football, and see where we can get to on the final day.”
Leeds will get their chance to put the Stockport defeat behind them this weekend with a trip to Chorley, who currently lie five points ahead of Leeds in third but with three extra games played.
“I wish I could put my finger on it and explain what went wrong at Stockport, why we weren’t at the races, why we weren’t ‘Leeds’ – but the more I try to think about about it, the harder it is to find an answer,” says Emma.
“So we won’t be licking our wounds this week. We’ll work hard in training and we go again on Sunday. We have nine games left to play, and when nothing is sure, anything is possible. Until it is mathematically certain that we cannot win this league, we keep fighting.”