leeds ladies 1-2 stockport county: leeds lucky the only injury is the scoreBack
For the second time this season Leeds Ladies lost at home due to a poor performance and a late goal, but more significant than gaining no points from the clash with Stockport was that Leeds’ players came away with no serious injuries.
In the early stages two almost simultaneous late fouls on Nicolle Jepson and Emma Bentley set the tone, with Bentley needed lengthy treatment for the damage done to her foot. From that point on, Stockport tackles were regularly late, and often over the top of the ball; Shelbey Morris and Ellie Hall were subjected to near-identical tackles from separate Stockport players that appeared to target their ankles rather than the ball. Midfielder Emily Starkie was another target, on the end of three late tackles from the three Stockport players, two of which earned yellow cards; while Zoe Doherty was lucky to evade a flying lunge, two-footed and uncontrolled, as she ran down the wing.
“I think Stockport came to cause as much trouble as possible,” says Leeds captain Emma Bentley. “From the beginning of the game it was clear they’d come to put a foot in on us — and leave it in. I love a physical game, with hard challenges and tough work. But I think there is a difference between respectful, tough challenges and what we saw from Stockport.
“Their challenges were regularly late, high, often two-footed and at times I felt they were downright dangerous. We didn’t shy away from it; our players kept going regardless and now have the bruises to show for it. It’s just a shame we didn’t also get the three points.”
Three Stockport players were booked overall, and there may have been more cards if more of the tackles had been spotted by the referee; it was no surprise that Leeds’ goal came through a penalty, after substitute Demi Pringle evaded one challenge but then was felled as another defender flew in. Despite lengthy protests from the Stockport players first that the ball had been won, second that the challenge wasn’t inside the box, and third that after treatment Pringle was able to limp to the sidelines, Emma Bentley kept cool to score.
That was an equaliser, after Stockport had taken the lead on 65 minutes, seizing on some hesitant defending to take one of the game’s few chances. Another goal followed in injury time as Leeds tried to take advantage of their momentum after the penalty and press forward for a winner; with Leeds’ defenders out of position, Stockport struck late to take the win.
It was a second bitter blow of the campaign for Leeds, coming just over two weeks after they lost to Hull City to a late own goal, but like the Hull game Leeds had been well below the best, and a draw was about all their second half improvement would have deserved.
“That’s been one of the most frustrating things for me this season,” says Emma. “Why we can’t start matches playing the way we do after an hour — with all guns blazing. We need to be ruthless and dominant from the first whistle, and not give teams too much respect.
“We fancied this match. Looking at recent results, we were confident that we had the form advantage over Stockport and could get the job done. But I suppose that shows how unpredictable this league can be, and how early we are in the season. There will be a lot more bumps in the road before teams settle into their rhythm.”
Although Leeds bounced back from the Hull defeat to dig in for a win at Mossley Hill, and showed against Morecambe last weekend a return to the form shown when beating Liverpool 3–0 in the season’s second game, the lethargic start against Stockport was a return to the kind of performance Leeds had hoped to have left behind. Stockport were set up to frustrate Leeds and deny them space, and with Stockport not offering much themselves other than two smash-and-grab goals, Leeds struggled to break them down.
As against Hull, though, going behind sparked Leeds into life, and once they began to attack with purpose they looked like a different side. Doherty, Jepson and Pringle began to trouble the Stockport defenders, while debutant Caitlin Gunnell, on as a substitute, provided composed passing from right-back.
“When we saw we were being crowded in midfield, I think we needed to adapt more quickly,” says Emma. “We needed to be spotting that, finding out where we can be stronger or where there’s space, and playing to our strengths. Even against Hull and now Stockport, when we haven’t played well, there have been spells when the football has been good; we need to find that consistent formula.
“I thought Gunners was ace when she came on. To come and make your debut in that sort of game can’t have been easy. But she held her own and played some good, simple football, and I was very impressed.”
Leeds only have a short time to regroup, with their next game a return trip to Hull City on Wednesday night, followed quickly by another home game at Garforth Town, against Chester-le-Street on Sunday 27th September.
“We’ll keep going,” says Emma. “I’m looking forward to these games — I always look forward to playing. To lose the way we did was gutting; not just the late goal, but because we didn’t play well enough to deserve to win.
“But our team spirit is still great and we’re in a great place off the pitch, and we have a good team on it that just needs something to click. I don’t know what that something is, but we will keep searching and working hard until we find it.”
Leeds Ladies are next at home, at Garforth Town, against Chester-le-Street on Sunday 27th; kick-off is 2pm. Follow them on Twitter for fixtures and updates. Sign up for email updates and match reports from Moscowhite here.