leeds ladies 2-1 blackpool: resilience and class to start the seasonBack
Leeds Ladies began the new season at their new home ground with a new look team, and continued the good form of last season with a 2–1 win over Blackpool Wren Rovers.
Two first half goals from captain Emma Bentley christened the J.S. White Community Stadium, the ground Leeds are sharing with Garforth Town this season, and although Blackpool pulled a goal back before half-time a strong defensive performance from Leeds kept a second half fightback at bay.
That defence had as its last line goalkeeper Bob Wattam, who was vital to the victory with two excellent saves in the last few minutes.
“It felt like we waited forever for this game to arrive,” says Emma Bentley. "We were excited about playing at Garforth and the expectation had been building, so we were all just desperate to get out on the pitch again! Obviously nerves kicked in a little bit on Saturday, but by 2pm on Sunday we were raring to go.
“We weren’t sure what to expect from Blackpool. They’ve been promoted to our division and as newcomers they had nothing to fear. They were very tough, very strong, very physical; it felt like they were in the position we were last year, with no pressure or expectation. They were the underdogs, so they could just turn up and play.”
It was Leeds who looked like they were playing without pressure in the first half. Less than three minutes had been played when Emily Starkie, moved from right-back to an advanced midfield role, robbed one Blackpool near the centre circle, nutmegged another, and then passed to striker Rachael Ackroyd who turned and shot wide from twenty yards.
They combined again a few minutes later, Starkie controlling a loose ball in central midfield and driving forward, then chipping the ball into Ackroyd’s path; Ackroyd smartly lofted the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper, but it hit the post and bounced away.
“We got at them early doors and shook them up a little bit,” says Emma. “We managed to get a foothold on the game and take control of the play. We were getting plenty of chances and on another day more goals would have hit the back of the net.”
The opening goal came on fifteen minutes. Bentley received the ball from Erin White deep in her own half, beat her opponent and sent Leeds on the attack by feeding Ellie Hall down the left wing. Hall cut inside and played a dangerous ball across the edge of the penalty area, where it found Bentley again, who sent it first into the far bottom corner from twenty-five yards.
Within ten minutes it was 2–0. A perfectly weighted free kick from Starkie wide on the right was met by Bridie Hannon, who headed towards the corner of the goal from close range; the goalkeeper managed to claw the ball away but only into the path of Emma Bentley, who diverted it inside the post.
“It was a great feeling to get the first of the season,” says Emma. "When the ball rolled across the edge of the area I thought I might have a chance of getting to it, and if I put it in the right place and on target we would have a chance. Hearing the crowd cheer felt great.
"For the second, I knew Bridie was going to make connection with the header and was just backing her up in case it didn’t go in. When it came back off the keeper I thought it was going round the post, so I just tried to get myself in the way without knocking myself out on the post in the process!
“I enjoyed the game, not just because I scored two; I demand a lot from myself and there was another chance I should have done better with, so I probably should have had a hat-trick. But I’ve worked hard in preseason and it was nice to feel the benefits, and to hear people saying I’d played well and helped the team.”
Leeds kept up the momentum, passing deftly through midfield and creating a chance for Vicky Fytche after a good one-two with Shelbey Morris that was saved, while Ackroyd always looked dangerous; but the course was knocked when Blackpool head the ball home from a corner at the far post, five minutes before half-time.
That gave Blackpool confidence for the second half, when they came out determined to attack Leeds and get something from the game.
“It was disappointing and I think we could have done better to stop that from happening,” says Emma. "But they did cause us quite a bit of trouble from corners, they had some very dangerous deliveries.
"As we sat in the dressing room at half-time we could hear their manager yelling at them from across the corridor. He was really riled up. We knew that they were going to come at us all guns blazing in the second half and they did. We spoke about how we were going to have to soak up their pressure and show resilience.
"I think especially in the second half they tried to use their physical presence against some of our smaller or younger girls and we were under a bit of pressure. I do think Blackpool will do well this season, but we know what we need to improve when we meet them at their place.
“We had that resilience though, and held out for the three points, which was important as we haven’t always been able to do that in the past.”
Leeds continued to look dangerous on the break, but making a success of their counter-attacking play was dependent on accuracy that couldn’t be found in the second half. Instead the match-winner was at the other end, where goalkeeper Bob Wattam pulled off two vital late saves to keep the score at 2–1: the first, getting down low to turn away a close range shot at her near post; for the second, plucking the ball into her hands as an unmarked player sent it towards the corner of the net from the edge of the six yard box.
“Unreal, thats all I can say about Bob,” says Emma. "Those two chances were certain goals with many other keepers between the sticks – I think I actually had my head in my hands for one of them, because I was certain that it was going to be a goal and two points lost. Bob really is one to watch this season, she has a massive future ahead of her.
"I also thought Vicky Fytche was great on Sunday. She thrives in these sorts of games, physical battles where she can really roll her sleeves up and get stuck in. She has been excellent throughout pre-season and if we can keep her injury free she will be an important player this year. When I made the forward run that led to the first goal, it was Fytchey who instantly dropped in to cover my position, and that discipline is exactly what we need.
“What I love about Fytche is how much she wants to win. She plays with her heart on her sleeve and never ever gives less than her best. In the last few minutes of the game Blackpool got a corner and she turned to me and said, ‘Bentz, no matter what, we do not let this go in’ – she just wants us to do well, and I love that.”
The final whistle came with an element of relief for Leeds, but also satisfaction that the first three points of the season had been won through a classic Leeds mixture of stylish attacking and battling hard work. Next Sunday Leeds travel away to Liverpool Marshall Feds, who ran Guiseley close for the title last season, missing out when Leeds beat them 1–0 in this fixture near the end of the season.
“The honeymoon period has ended quickly!” says Emma. “I suppose Liverpool will have a point to prove next week; I don’t expect they will have the kettle on and the biscuit box out for us. It will be a tough game and they will be looking to punish us for ruining their party last season. It’s going to be tough and we know that. We are going to have to show the same strength and resilience in defence as we did on Sunday and be a little bit more clinical in attack. It will be an interesting one.”
Leeds’ next home game is against Hull City, on Wednesday 2nd September at 7.45pm. Follow them on Twitter for fixtures and updates. Sign up for email updates and match reports from Moscowhite here.