leeds ladies revenge mission stops ten game middlesbrough run: “we had them”Back
Three weeks ago Leeds Ladies put in one of their best performances of the season away to Middlesbrough, only to lose to a controversial last minute goal that was as painful as anything the club has gone through this season.
In the wind, rain and mud of Ossett Town’s ground on Sunday, Leeds bettered that performance and finally got the result they should have had at Boro, ending their opponents ten-game unbeaten run and moving themselves up to third in the process.
Leeds were even better than the 2–0 scoreline suggests, continuing the form shown in the away game by attacking Boro with pace and power from the start. Despite the sometimes gale force conditions, Leeds kept passing and creating openings for a fast moving forward three of Olivia Smart, Hannah Campbell and Rachael Ackroyd, who was making her first start since stepping up from the Development Squad.
A number of players and staff had been to Josh Warrington’s fight the night before, and Leeds played with the same intense determination to get the job done as Josh showed at the Arena.
“The fight was brilliant, we had a great night,” says Leeds captain Emma Bentley. “Josh has always been really supportive of our team and has been to see us at Manse Lane this season, so it was nice to give him some support back. The atmosphere was incredible and Josh did everybody proud.
“It’s always inspiring to see a local sportsperson doing well, but to be honest we didn’t need any riling up for this match. Fiona Berry, who is normally so laid back she’s horizontal, told me on Saturday that she was really excited for the game – and when she’s fired up, I know everybody’s fired up.
“There was a clear message in the changing room before the game: revenge. Any way, no matter what, revenge. The pre-match vibe was quite relaxed despite that – we had a bit of music on, were passing an American Football around, just chilled and smiles on faces. It takes a lot to phase us as a team; individually we are privately getting hyped up, but the general feel is quite calm.
“It’s only in the circle immediately before kick off that we get our game faces on, and then from the whistle, we go. Against Middlesbrough in particular, we were calm in the warm up, but vicious from the whistle.”
Leeds began making chances right from the off, Hannah Campbell driving in from the right across goal and taking Leeds close twice in the first ten minutes, and Rachel Ackroyd creating two chances for herself to volley at goal from inside the penalty area: the first blocked, the second just a foot away from the top corner.
Those two players combined for the best chance of the first half, when Ackroyd broke from defending a corner and evading Boro challenges on her way to the opposition penalty area where she set up Campbell, whose shot was too close to the keeper.
Leeds were well on top, although the wintry conditions added an extra element to the battle as tackles flew in midfield.
“It was awful in the first half,” says Emma. “The rain was awful, and the wind was blowing it straight into our faces – although the biggest moaner on the pitch was the ref, he was nearly crying!
“The conditions did make it difficult but I thought we played good football. Ackers was great, Hannah was dangerous as always and Olivia Smart – Deej – was getting forward down the left. Playing our football and getting the ball to those three was working, it was just fighting the wind and getting up there with them that was the difficult part!
“Ackers in particular was excellent and unlucky not to get a goal. That will come with experience, and it can’t have been easy for her, thrown in for her first start against a team like Boro. But she was brilliant.
“There were lots of tackles flying about but I love that – I love it when everybody ups their game. When it’s a tough game I like to get into a bit of a crunching tackle early on to get myself into it. It was the second half when it really got tasty and I love battles like that – hostile, feisty. I think it’s a Leeds thing.
“I ended up in a bit of a tussle with one player in midfield and she left her mark on me with one late tackle. I didn’t really fancy going face first into that mud – it was one of those moments when I think to myself, why didn’t I pick netball? And then I think, I have to get up quite quickly – because I don’t want to lose face in the battle.”
Middlesbrough couldn’t have complained if they’d been 4–0 down at half-time, but as the weather calmed it wasn’t until the 55th minute that Leeds took the lead, Lauren Griffiths running into space with the ball and shooting into the top of the net from 25 yards.
“Lauren will tell you herself she isn’t a natural goalscorer – she likes creating them and building up play. But when she’s around the edge of the box with a moment of space, she’s just as good as anyone in the team for pulling out a shot like that.
“That only put us 1–0 up but the win was always on. I felt like we were teaching them a lesson. We were dominating all over the park. Their right winger was in Ellie Hall’s back pocket, we were keeping their number 9 – who looked dangerous at their place – quiet. Erin White, Lauren and me were winding up their midfield and their poor left-back must have been happy when Ackroyd went off, only for Hannah Campbell to move there instead – and with Kez Huegett coming on and making a difference with her clever feet upfront, they weren’t getting a break.
“You could see it in their faces. They were well and truly beaten. Physically, mentally, emotionally. We had them.”
Huegett almost made an immediate impact on her return from injury, hitting the bar with almost her first touch, and the second goal came when she played the ball over the top for the other substitute, winger Nicola Devine, to bury into the bottom corner. That goal, with seven minutes left, put the result beyond doubt and sparked mass celebrations from Leeds players, bench and fans.
“I was really happy for Nicola getting that goal, and I think we celebrated so much because we knew we had work really hard for this win. It wasn’t at easy 2–0 at all. Middlesbrough aren’t a soft team and they’ve won nine of their last ten – but we went at them and were relentless for ninety minutes. Maybe Josh and Vinnie inspired us more than we realised!
“I’m just desperate to play again now. After that performance and that result, I can’t wait to go to Chester-le-Street this weekend and keep the momentum going.”
There was good news for Leeds Ladies’ momentum off the pitch as well, with confirmation that the club will be returning to Leeds from next season to play home matches at Garforth Town for the next three seasons.
“I’m so excited that we’re coming home,” says Emma. “Knaresborough Town have been brilliant with us, and I love the ladies in the clubhouse there and am going to miss them, but announcements like this continue to show the amazing direction the club is going in.
“To be back in Leeds will be brilliant and will make it a lot easier for fans old and new to come and support us. The facilities at Garforth are top class and I’m really looking forward to calling it home.”
Leeds Ladies next game is at Chester-le-Street on Sunday April 19th; the final home game of the season is in a few weeks at Manse Lane, Knaresborough, against Tranmere, on Sunday May 3rd. Visit LeedsLadiesFC.co.uk, or follow Leeds Ladies FC and the LLFC Supporters Club on Twitter for updates.