Leeds United Stories, Vol. 1

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leeds ladies 4-2 morecambe ladies: resilient leeds level up to win

leeds ladies 4-2 morecambe ladies: resilient leeds level up to win


Resilience has been a signature trait of Leeds Ladies FC since they came back from conceding two quick goals in their first competitive game, thirteen months ago, to win 4–2.

Belief and fighting spirit has been present in every adverse situation since, and Leeds called on it again against Morecambe after letting in two soft goals from set-pieces in the first five minutes.

Some teams might have crumbled after a start like that, but goals from Emma Bentley and Rachael Ackroyd levelled the score before half-time, and Zoe Doherty gave Leeds the lead just seconds after it, to put Leeds in command for the second half. A penalty from Emma Bentley made it 4–2 in the last few minutes after Emily Starkie was fouled.

The performance after going two goals behind was one of Leeds’ best of the season, with Zoe Doherty growing in confidence and quality in midfield and captain Emma Bentley and defender Bridie Hannon leading the collective response to the shock start.

“Honestly? I was fuming,” says Emma. “I couldn’t quite believe that was happening. We were totally shellshocked and I think Morecambe were just as surprised. Garforth seemed silent for those few moments, which with a group of Norwegian fans over, it certainly wasn’t for the rest of the game.

“I just knew we couldn’t crumble. As shocked as we were, we had to forget about the scoreline and start again, because other than the goals Morecambe weren’t worrying us. My job as captain was mostly to keep the girls calm, to help us find our focus again and do the simple things right, do the things we’d talked about before the game, and build from there.”

Despite losing Vicky Fytche to an ankle injury, Leeds gradually built up pressure on the Morecambe goal, and pulled the first back through Bentley with a low strike from outside the penalty area, that swerved away from the keeper into the bottom corner.

With one scored, Leeds sensed the opportunity to level before half-time, and Bentley was instrumental again, sending a precise long pass forward to Rachael Ackroyd, who finished brilliantly with a confident half-volley from the edge of the area.

“The first goal came about through some really quick thinking by Ellie Hall,” says Emma. “She took a quick throw-in that meant I had a bit of space. I was quite far out but I’d had a shot a few moments before that had gone close. The keeper was dealing with things high so I tried a low shot instead, and when it went in and I heard the crowd go mad I was buzzing. It felt like the lift we needed to kickstart us.

“For the second, I picked the ball up deep on the sidelines near our bench and heard Gaz shout, ‘Ackers’ — so I knew she was ready for a run. I just tried to make it as good a ball as possible to give her the best chance; and Ackers is such a quality finisher, as soon as it left her foot I knew it was taking the net off!

“When we went in our manager told us in no uncertain terms those goals had saved us from what he was planning to say! He was rightly still angry about conceding those two early goals. But he also positive about how we’d played some good football since then, and now the momentum was with us.”

Leeds’ equaliser had come just before half-time, and they capitalised on that momentum by scoring again moments after the restart. Thirty yards from goal, Zoe Doherty span beneath Ellie Hall’s ball inside, and with time to pick a spot, picked the top corner with a perfect shot.

With the game now getting away from them, Morecambe dug in to try and regain their early advantage, and few chances followed for either side as Bridie Hannon kept Leeds’ defence secure, while Ackroyd, Shelbey Morris and Nicolle Jepson kept creating options for Leeds’ midfield at the other. The score stayed at 3–2 until the 90th minute when Emily Starkie, who had been a constant problem for Morecambe since coming on for Fytche, was brought down in the penalty area.

“That was the best game we have seen from Zoe in a Leeds shirt. She was as hard working as ever but I felt she got more of what she has worked for this week. Things came off for her and she looked relaxed and happy. I told everyone she was a baller!

“I thought Starkie did well when she came on and really staked a claim to start. She has this habit of causing utter chaos when she gets the ball, and when she drives forward it gives the defensive players a chance to shape up and push out.

“Morecambe matched us player for player in the middle in the second half, so there was less time and space, but I knew with Zoe and Starkie driving forward we were dangerous. That’s what got us the goals in the second half.

“There are always nerves when you take a penalty, even at 3–2 in injury time: it’s all about mind games, and who can hold their nerve. I saw the keeper moving to one side, trying to encourage me to shoot into the bigger space she was leaving — so I guessed she would dive that way. I shaped up as if that’s what where I was going to place it, and put it the other way instead.”

The cheers at the final whistle were not just of relief that Leeds hadn’t caved in after their shock start, but of appreciation for following that with one of the best performances of the season so far; and from the Norwegian branch of the Leeds Ladies Supporters’ Club, who were visiting Garforth on a long weekend to take in United’s games against Brentford and Ipswich, the United U21s on Monday, and Leeds Ladies on Sunday.

“The support on Sunday was unbelievable!” says Emma. “The support we get in general is amazing but it was taken up a level on Sunday, they were so loud. At one point I heard the Morecambe players arguing with each other because they couldn’t hear instructions over the noise. We’re renowned for the level of support we get, home and away, and we really do appreciate it.

“I was happy we got the win in the end, for those fans and for ourselves. I suppose I feel a bit more responsible because I’m the captain, and I’m protective over our team. I want us to do well and I want us to be happy, and to do that we have to be a winning team. So when things go the way they did at the start of this game, I want to see us run that bit further and put the effort in to put it right, and that’s what we all did.”

Sunday also marked another landmark for Leeds Ladies; thirteen months after the reborn club played its first league match, the new under–16s side played their first competitive game at Temple Newsam, winning 11–0. The Development team were also in action, travelling to Middlesbrough and winning 5–0. Three Leeds teams, three Leeds wins, twenty Leeds goals.

“I’m told that as well as Demi Pringle scoring two and nearly skinting her dad by going close to a hat-trick, Stacey Haytack pulled off some great saves for the Devs to keep a clean sheet. The progress I’ve seen from Stacey since she joined us has been unbelievable, she’s been working hard with our coach Lewis and it’s really paying off.

“I went to watch the u16s before out match and they were really exciting. They played with such style and maturity it’s hard to believe they’re the youngest players at the club. Khloe Cooper led them exceptionally from the back, and I was really impressed with Chloe Bethell in midfield — she wears my number and is obviously after my shirt pretty soon!

“It was a really great way to spend a sunny Sunday morning before our game, and having the u16s playing and winning is a real milestone in the progress of the club.”

Leeds Ladies are next at home, at Garforth Town, against Stockport County on Sunday 20th; kick-off is 2pm. Follow them on Twitter for fixtures and updates. Sign up for email updates and match reports from Moscowhite here.