determination & potential combine to put leeds ladies back on courseBack
After a difficult few weeks Leeds Ladies turned in a composed and confident performance against Norton & Stockton Ancients that restored their hopes for the rest of the season and beyond.
Leeds won 2–0 as Bridie Hannon headed in Emma Bentley’s corner near the end of the first half; that was followed by a penalty scored by Bentley given for a foul on Hannah Campbell.
There could have been more goals for Leeds. Campbell set the tone in the first few minutes when her angled shot hit the near post and the keeper did well to save Erin White’s effort on the rebound. Sarah Lawn hit the bar with a free kick, and the Norton keeper did brilliantly to tip a curling shot from Shelbey Morris on to the bar; by that time Morris had already had the ball in the net after dribbling straight through the Norton defence and, after Campbell’s shot, tucking in the rebound, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
Leeds’ professional performance was in spite of three recent defeats that ended hopes of winning either the County Cup or the league title, and achieved with a squad that was depleted by injuries, absences and illnesses; which gave left-back and Ellie Hall a chance to excel on her full debut, and young forwards Rachel Ackroyd and Beth Davies opportunities to impress from the bench.
“I genuinely wasn’t going to be playing – I just wasn’t well enough,” says Leeds’ captain Emma Bentley. “I’d always rather have a midweek illness so I can recover in time to play, and most of the time when I’m ill or injured I just play anyway. But this time I had accepted that I just wasn’t going to make it.
“But with players away, injured or working we were very depleted, and the manager went from telling me I wouldn’t travel, to saying we’d assess it in the warm up, to making me play the full ninety minutes!
“It was hard work. We changed the set up so I was in midfield and I had to get used to that, plus it was a hot day against some tough players. I liked Norton, they were a nice bunch of girls, but they put some hard tackles in.”
The two teams were evenly matched in a first half of few chances, but Hannon’s goal was important to send Leeds into half-time confident of victory, and the early penalty allowed Leeds to relax, make changes and enjoy their football.
“People would be forgiven for thinking we would have been down in the dumps going into this game because of recent results, but we continue to approach each game the same way: we look for the win. We spoke before the match about what this club means to us, and what we want to get out of this season. Why do we turn up week in week out on cold Tuesday and Thursday nights to train? Why do we sacrifice our weekends to play? Is it so we can limp to the end of the season and finish seventh? Or is it to finish as high as we can – which could be third place, or still even second?
“We didn’t play fabulous football in the first half, but we were putting the pressure on and withstanding any attacks. It wasn’t pretty but we were doing the job we had to do. We started to get on top quite well in the second half and threatened Norton a lot more; we got into the flow.
“For the penalty, I saw Hannah flying into the box, saw the defender heading towards her, and I knew it was going to be a penalty. I was on my way to place the ball on the spot before Hannah even hit the ground! The referee was explaining to me why he only gave the defender a yellow card but I hadn’t even noticed, I was just focused on making sure I scored.
“Overall it was about doing a job in this game, and we did that. It didn’t matter how we won, as long as we won.”
Catching the eye in a hard-working team performance was player-of-the-match Ellie Hall, who defended well at left-back and provided an always dangerous attacking threat down the left side. She was joined in the second half by Beth Davies and Rachel Ackroyd, two young players showing the growing potential of the club’s Development Squad.
“Ellie played for our reserves last season before having a spell at Sheffield FC,” says Emma. “I thought she was excellent last year and we were unlucky to lose her. I’m glad she decided to come home and I thought she was outstanding. She’s composed and good in a tackle, but she likes to get forward to and has lots of energy. She will be a great asset to us for the rest of the season and beyond.
“Rachel Ackroyd is another who has shown her raw potential in the Devs. I’ve always thought Ackers has been a bit underrated; she plays as a number nine like me and I know how hard that role can be. But every time I’ve seen her I’ve been impressed with how she deals with the ball. She’s strong and clever and plays to her strengths, with flicks and backheels that can make defenders disappear.
“I think the players who have come into the side over the last few weeks like Ellie, Ackers, Beth Davies and Karen Poshai have shown what great young players we have for the future. But let’s not forget Catherine Hamill. She has been prominent in the team all season and hasn’t just held her own but cemented herself as a first choice defender – and she’s only seventeen. Cath needs to be very proud of herself in her first season of open age football.”
With five games left to play the only pressure on Leeds is the self-generated pressure to end the season as high up the table as they can, and to leave the club at the end of its landmark first season in good shape for the future. First, against Middlesbrough at Ossett Town on Sunday April 12th, is a chance to avenge the painful last-minute defeat Leeds endured in the away fixture two weeks ago.
“It’s been a tough few weeks and we’ve taken a few blows,” says Emma. “But we’ve brushed them off and come out the other side. People are stepping up to the plate and showing their worth to the team.
“We’ll be going out with all guns blazing against Boro. They’re the form team of the division that everybody is admiring, but we’ve got nothing to lose now and no pressure on us. And a team with nothing to lose is a dangerous one.”
The game against Middlesbrough will be played at Ossett Town’s 4G Voice & Data Stadium on Sunday April 12th, kick-off at 2pm. Visit LeedsLadiesFC.co.uk, or follow Leeds Ladies FC and the LLFC Supporters Club on Twitter for updates.