liverpool marshall feds 0-3 leeds ladies: statement win sets leeds standardBack
Leeds Ladies recorded a 3–0 win at Liverpool Marshall Feds on Sunday to let the league know they intend to be in the running for promotion this season.
Liverpool were themselves only two points away from winning the title last season, and made a statement of their own last weekend with a 10–1 win over Norton & Stockton Ancients.
They also had a point to prove to Leeds, whose 1–0 win at Liverpool at the end of April handed the league title to Guiseley Vixens. At the time that was Leeds’ fourth successive league victory, a run of wins that now stretches across the summer into this season and eight straight wins.
Leeds never looked in real danger against Liverpool, despite losing goalkeeper Bob Wattam to injury in the warm up, and won the game with a combination of determined defending up and down the pitch and three quality goals, two from Rachael Ackroyd either side of a brilliant individual run and finish by Emily Starkie.
“If I’m honest I think there was a little bit of nerves among the players,” says Leeds captain Emma Bentley. “I know that personally I was feeling a bit nervous. We knew how tough a side they were last season and how well they did, and then to read their scoreline last week, I think we were thinking, ‘Oh Jesus, we are in for a game here.’ Despite that, the mood on the bus travelling down was good: listening to a bit of music, enjoying it and trying to relax.
“Bob had been struggling and didn’t train at all last week so we knew she was a doubt. She really wanted to play and after resting her injured leg we were hoping it would be okay and she would get through it. When she went down in the warm up with Kris and Lewis around her there was real worry, and it did disrupt our final preparations.
“With everyone worrying about what to do, Beth Smith just sort of whispered under her breath how she had played in goal once or twice before. I asked her, ‘Well, can you catch a ball?’ She said yes so I shouted to our manager and pointed to Beth… if looks could kill as she set off I’d be six foot under! Joking aside, Smithy showed right there and then that she has got what it takes to be in this team. She is willing to put everybody else before herself, and she had a great game. And for her to get a clean sheet was nice!”
Smith had plenty to do as Liverpool showed the quality that took them close to promotion last season and was too much for Norton & Stockton to deal with last week, but Leeds never allowed them to get a grip on the game and gradually took charge. Rachael Ackroyd was a constant threat in attack, combining well with new signing Nicolle Jepson, and when she scored in the 24th minute it wasn’t the first time she’d been one-on-one with the goalkeeper, getting onto a through ball on the edge of the Liverpool box. This time Ackroyd won the race outside the area, and the keeper — already booked for deliberately handling outside the area — could do nothing as Ackroyd clipped the ball past her, but watch with the rest of the players as it rolled over the line.
“I think we got on the front foot straight away,” says Emma. “We could see which players weren’t comfortable on the ball and we targeted that, pushing high and forcing them backwards.
“I wasn’t certain when we scored the first goal that we would end up putting three past them, but I felt comfortable that from that point we wouldn’t lose. Liverpool did have one or two players who were a danger to us though, and we had to concentrate on making sure that they didn’t cause us any problems.”
Two goals in five minutes settled the game in the middle of the second half. First, Emily Starkie controlled a loose ball in the middle of the Liverpool and drove towards the goal, beating one player with strength and another with a deft flick, before slaloming between two more and fooling the goalkeeper with a calm finish. Five minutes later substitute Erin White found Nicolle Jepson wide on the right, and her cross to the back post was measured exactly on to Rachael Ackroyd’s forehead, for her to nod inside the goalkeeper’s post.
“Starkie’s goal was a good one,” says Emma. “The space opened up before her and she just kept going and going. There was a moment when she only had the keeper left to beat and I thought, ‘keep your cool,’ but she did exactly that and put it in the corner.
“The last goal was definitely the best of the three for me though. A great win and ball out wide by Ez and that cross was unbelievable, Ackers barely had to move! Our manager was happy because we have been working on getting the ball out wide in training, and it’s paid off there.
“I wasn’t very happy with my personal performance, but I’m glad that didn’t matter so much in the end because we got the win. I still don’t think we played the football that we are capable of or what I have seen in training. But the important part was that, as a team, we got the three points.”
Three goals down with fifteen minutes left, Liverpool did attempt a fightback, but with a commanding lead to defend Leeds found another level to dig deep for the win. Substitutes Shelbey Morris and Rachel Landricombe offered fresh legs and pace in attack, while the back four doubled down on their efforts to keep Liverpool out. As the clock wound down, Bridie Hannon and Sophie Thompson were still tackling as full-blooded as if the game was poised at 1–0.
“I thought Thommo was brilliant yesterday,” says Emma. “She had quite a handful in the first half with their left sided players, but she dealt with it all. She’s tough tackling and no nonsense — so she fits in perfectly really!
“It was good to see another of our new players, Zoe Doherty, make her debut too. I think it was a frustrating afternoon for her, she didn’t really get chance to cause the damage that she is capable of. But she has a sensible head on her shoulders, and has played at a high enough level to know that games like that come and go. When she gets her moment, she will be lethal.”
The moment for Leeds Ladies on Sunday was the final whistle; the torrential rain that began to fall in the final few minutes of the match didn’t dampen any of the Leeds spirits as they celebrated an away win that sets their standard for the rest of the season.
Leeds were the third team, behind Guiseley and Liverpool, in the running for the title last season; but after a summer of comings and goings there was some uncertainty in preseason about how quickly Leeds could rebuild and challenge again. A dominant away win against team who are expected to be up at the top at the end of the season suggests Leeds are ready to go there with them, but Emma Bentley isn’t ready to settle for one away win.
“I can’t say I’m not proud of this result, because I am. But I don’t feel like we have got out of first gear yet. We are starting to get into our stride, and once we really get going and show everybody exactly what we are capable of — then I will be proud.
“It was a statement, and people will be looking at that result and seeing us as the team to beat now. We’ve got a week off from league duties next weekend, to face Middlesbrough in the cup; they are in our league so it will give us an insight into what to expect from them, and do the same on their side.
“Most importantly, we are back in league action a few days after that, with a midweek fixture at Garforth against newly promoted Hull. Hull beat us heavily last summer in one of our very first preseason games as Leeds Ladies FC, and we need to have a bit of a chat with them about that one; I’m looking forward to another big home crowd under the floodlights at Garforth, and hopefully another result to be proud of.”
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.