leeds ladies settle title decider: “our aim is to win every match”Back
Leeds Ladies’ Shelbey Morris struck a dramatic late winner in Liverpool to guarantee that Leeds will end a memorable season in third place – and to deny Liverpool Marshalls Feds the league title.
That honour went instead to Leeds’ city rivals Guiseley Vixens, who were hoping Leeds could be only the second team not to lose at Liverpool this season and hand promotion to Guiseley.
“We knew that this would be a big game in many ways,” says Leeds captain Emma Bentley. “Those two teams’ whole seasons were in our hands. And we still had to consolidate a third place finish for ourselves.
“Obviously Guiseley are big rivals of ours and have been all season. So to beat Liverpool and allow Guiseley to win the league was not something that rested comfortably with us. But at the end of the day, our aim is to win every match, and despite its implications, that continued to be the case. Let’s not forget though that Liverpool were unbeaten at home this season, so a big thought on my mind in the build up was: does it even matter what we want? Liverpool are favourites to beat us!”
Liverpool’s home record was won nine, drawn one and lost none, but their away record also included a last minute win at Manse Lane back in September that had left Emma Bentley and her team dejected on the grass as Liverpool’s players and manager celebrated the goal around them – a moment that hadn’t been forgotten during the rest of the campaign.
“Remembering that feeling when they beat us, and the way their manager reacted to that, did weigh on my mind,” says Emma. “I don’t want any team to ever make me or my team mates feel like that and get away with it. We owed them one. And we had a proud record to protect: no team has done the double over us this season.”
The goal came in the fourth minute of stoppage time, when Liverpool were caught on the break after throwing every player forward in a final effort to win the game and the title. Erin White led the breakaway and squared the ball across the penalty area to substitute Shelbey Morris, who set herself up amid a crowd of panicked defenders and shot into the bottom corner.
In the end, Leeds had faced little opposition from Liverpool and had enough chances to have won this game by a larger margin. Given Liverpool’s formidable home record, and given what a win would mean to them and the club, Leeds were prepared for an onslaught – but it never came.
“It was baffling!” says Emma. “They didn’t seem to come at us like we expected them to. I can’t decide whether they lacked the desire, whether they were just having an off day, or whether we simply outplayed them.
“We played some good football and put a lot of pressure on them. They did have chances of their own though; they were quite dangerous from set pieces too. But we held out strong and cleared our lines.
“I think we deserved to win it more than they did, so it was just reward when Shelbey scored; and I think if we had given Guiseley the league with a draw that would have felt a bit boring anyway. If we are going to help our arch rivals to promotion then we may as well do it by beating the current league leaders who are unbeaten at home.
“I do wish Guiseley all the best next season, and I’m looking forward to two more good games with Liverpool next year.”
Kez Heugett was integral to the attack, playing her last game for the club and providing a focus for excellent attacking play down the wings by Nicola Devine, Emily Starkie, Catherine Hamill and Sophie Scargill, orchestrated by Lauren Griffiths in the middle.
At the back, Chloe Precious put in a player of the match performance on her debut, taking over in goal in place of the injured Lauryn Colman.
“I thought Chloe had a great debut,” says Emma. “She was confident and composed and pulled off some great saves.
“At the other end, Kez is going to be missed. I would like to wish Kez all the very best and thank her for everything she has put into Leeds Ladies this season. She has been an icon for the club and a name that everybody connects with Leeds. I’m sure she’ll do well in the future, whichever path she takes.”
While Guiseley will have celebrated their title, the result meant a day of celebration for Leeds too; the most important outcome from the team’s fourth consecutive win was to secure third spot with two games remaining, a brilliant achievement for a club that had to be put together out of nothing last summer.
Leeds will sign off with their last home game at Manse Lane on Sunday May 3rd against Tranmere, kicking off at 1.40pm, preceded by a match for the Development Squad at 11.30am to make it a Leeds Ladies double-header. They travel to Tranmere for the season’s final match one week later.
“There is a very small part of me that still thinks about those dropped points, and the lack of consistency at times that has stopped us finishing higher,” says Emma. “But we have cemented third place, and if we win our last two games we will finish only six points off the top. When you look at the experience across the teams in this league, that is a phenomenal feat.
“The double-header with the Devs will be a great way to finish our home games and bid a fond farewell to Manse Lane before we move to Garforth Town next season. I have loved playing at Knaresborough and I will miss it very much. I’m looking forward to a good afternoon – and another Leeds win.”