“hard work & determination get you places” – a ground out win for leeds ladiesBack
One win from their remaining three games will guarantee Leeds Ladies a third place finish, after they won three more hard earned points from Chester-le-Street.
A header from Bridie Hannon and a penalty each by Emma Bentley and Carey Huegett – plus a match-saving block from goalkeeper Lauryn Colman – gave Leeds a 3–2 win and prevented a repeat of September’s 2–2 draw.
Leeds let a commanding 2–0 lead slip in the last twenty minutes of that game, and in the return Chester again refused to give up, equalising twice before Huegett’s last minute penalty.
Leeds started with the same team that finished against Middlesbrough last week, with Huegett and Nicola Devine, but this was a different kind of win to that dominant performance; but it was equally satisfying due to the hard work necessary to grind it out.
“We had finished strongly against Middlesbrough and the manager decided to stick with the same eleven,” says Leeds captain Emma Bentley. “That meant there was more experience in there than we have had at many times this season. We knew that Chester-le-Street had an experienced side and wouldn’t be easy pickings, so I think we looked to match that.
“I had been waiting for this game for a while. The way we let those points slip earlier in the season was far too soft for my liking, and it hurts a little bit to look back on results like those and wonder, if they had been better, whether we would still be chasing for the title. Unfortunately that wasn’t meant to be, but it left us with another revenge job on our hands – and we are pretty good at those.”
Leeds had to fight for that revenge in a game of few clear chances, as the two battling midfields cancelled each other out and denied either team much space to play.
“Chester are a tough side, and like I said, they’re experienced,” says Emma. “They aren’t the best footballing side that we’ve come up against, but I knew they weren’t going to be a pushover, and they proved that.
“I think we were better than them technically, but they were clever and pacy on the wings and deserved credit for the way they played. For the majority of the game they matched us for toughness and they had some intelligent play too.”
It took what is becoming a trademark corner routine to open the scoring on 33 minutes, when Bentley’s cross was headed in by Bridie Hannon at the back post.
“That routine is getting quite funny now! Bridie knows the exact flight, direction and pace of that ball, and where it’s going to land – I just concentrate on replicating that delivery again and again and trust Bridie to do the rest.”
Leeds let the lead slip before half time when a long range shot from Chester hit the top corner, and had to start again in the second half. This time the lead didn’t take so long; Huegett was too much to deal with in the Chester penalty area, and was brought down on the edge of the six yard box for a clear penalty that Emma Bentley stepped up to take.
“I think both teams realised that the referee was quite inconsistent and tried to take advantage of that,” says Emma. “Sometimes she’d give a foul for something quite soft, and other times a crunching tackle was allowed to play on without a flicker. So both teams were going in hard and seeing what happened!
“I was quite nervous for the penalty. With the game at 1–1, I knew that if I missed, our heads could go down – but that a goal would spur us on. It felt like make or break.
“I also knew that their goalkeeper, Catty Clough, is a particularly good shot stopper. I’ve played with her before and she’s amazing, big and strong but also very agile – if there’s any keeper in this league I wouldn’t want to take a penalty against, it’s her.
“I decided just to hit it as hard as I could. I actually think it’s the best penalty I’ve struck this season – Catty got a hand to it, but she wasn’t stopping that.”
Leeds needed another penalty to secure all three points though, after a defensive mix-up when defending a free kick allowed Chester a free header from the penalty spot that made it 2–2. Chester nearly made it 3–2, but goalkeeper Colman – playing with a suspected broken finger – pulled off a stunning reflex save to tip a Chester effort away from point-blank range.
A stunning save at the other end led to Leeds taking the win, when after another corner Hannon hit the underside of the bar and, in the ensuing scramble, the referee and linesman decided that while the ball hadn’t crossed the line, it had been kept out by a Chester defender’s handball. Surprisingly there was no red card, but there was a penalty – and this time Kez Huegett did the honours.
“Chester nearly did grind us down,” says Emma. “It was a disappointing goal to concede – we should have done better defensively.
“We probably could have played out for the point and all gone home happily sharing, but that’s not happening with our team. It honestly never crossed my mind. Why play for a point when you can have three?
“The handball was the best save I’ve seen all season! A full stretch dive down to the left post and a scoop out with her hand – it was top quality goalkeeping!
“It’s not often you get two penalties in a game, so we had to think about this one. As I said, Catty is a great keeper, and now she had the advantage of seeing my first penalty so she could guess what I might do. But Kez had the advantage of seeing what Catty did for mine – we’d seen all her cards, but we still had a card to play. Kez bluffed her and it was a great penalty.”
It also sparked big celebrations from the players and bench, following on from big celebrations when Middlesbrough were beaten 2–0 last week, and there has been no sign of the team slowing down since the title chances dissolved.
“Wins matter because wins matter,” says Emma. “I don’t think it makes a difference what stage of the season we’re at. We just want to win.
“There were big celebrations against Boro because we earned that win hands down – we played them off the park. But there were celebrations again on Sunday because we’d ground out that win – it wasn’t pretty, but a win’s a win.
“It feels good when your hard work and determination get you places. That’s the other side of the coin right there – it’s the opposite to the feeling when you’re face down on the turf after a 90th minute defeat, or the feeling at Stockport when we let ourselves and everyone else down.
“There was a time when this side would have been pegged back like we were in this game and then let it slip away. But we have matured as a team and we are now more than capable of seeing out wins, and of rolling our sleeves up and fighting to get back something that has been taken away. I think we believe in ourselves more than we used to – we turn up to games believing we can win them. We’re not the finished product, but we have come a hell of a long way.”
While experience and maturity won the day at Chester-le-Street, Leeds’ young development squad had a difficult time in their match against Sheffield, losing 10–1 in a game where they were reduced to nine players through injuries.
“The Devs took a hard knock this weekend, but they’ve had a great second half of the season,” says Emma. “The idea of the Devs is to nurture players through to the first team, and I think with the likes of Ellie Hall, Beth Davies, Rachel Ackroyd and Karen Poshai all making debuts, and others like Sophie Scargill playing a big part in the first team after being in the Devs last season, plus loads of others taking part in training sessions with the first team, it all shows that we have a system where players have things to aim for and work towards.
“The first team went with experience on Sunday and have pretty much consolidated third place now, so with three games left that could give the manager opportunities to look at some other potential players who have first team football in their sights for next season.”
Leeds Ladies next match is a trip to Liverpool Marshalls Feds on Sunday May 26th, followed by the last home game of the season at Knaresborough’s Manse Lane against Tranmere on Sunday May 3rd. Visit LeedsLadiesFC.co.uk, or follow Leeds Ladies FC and the LLFC Supporters Club on Twitter for updates.