middlesbrough fc ladies 5-2 leeds ladies fc: bigger picture counts for leedsBack
Leeds Ladies went out of the FA WPL Cup to Middlesbrough on Sunday despite taking an early 2–0 lead.
Bridie Hannon and Shelbey Morris set Leeds up for a positive result on Teeside, but a Bianca Owens hat-trick and a controversial red card changed the game in Boro’s favour by half-time.
With a home league game coming up on Wednesday night against Hull City, Leeds made six changes from the team that convincingly beat Liverpool 3–0 last weekend, bringing in a combination of younger players looking for a test against strong opposition, and more familiar faces building up match fitness.
“We knew going into this game that the League Cup wasn’t on our list of priorities this season,” says captain Emma Bentley, who started on the bench and handed the armband to Bridie Hannon for the day.
“Obviously I was disappointed not to start, because as a player I want to start every single game, and finish them all too. That’s just how I am — I want to play football. But when I found out I wasn’t playing I just had to put my sensible head on and make sure I was in the right frame of mind if I was needed, and to see the bigger picture as well.
“We know Boro have a strong side and it won’t be easy for teams going to play them at Thornaby this season, but with an important league game three days later we had to strike a fine balance.”
It looked like the right balance when, after less than three minutes, a long-range free kick from Bridie Hannon found the roof of the net. That was followed by a goal from Shelbey Morris, who broke through the Middlesbrough defence and caught the goalkeeper out by taking her shot early and at speed, chipping the ball over the keeper from twenty-five yards out.
“It was going very well,” says Emma. “Middlesbrough seemed to be thrown by the way we were set up and they didn’t know how to handle us for the first half an hour. They changed their formation three or four times to try and deal with us.
“But then they started to get on top physically and worked their way back into the game, which was disappointing from our point of view.”
Bianca Owens notched a hat-trick in the last fifteen minutes of the first half to put Middlesbrough ahead, and before Leeds could get in the dressing room to regroup they lost Sophie Thompson to a red card.
As Thompson laid the ball off, a Middlesbrough player followed through with a late tackle and appeared to stamp on Thompson’s ankle; she reacted by kicking out at the Boro player’s foot. Both players went their separate ways without making anything more of it, but uproar from the Middlesbrough bench brought the incident to the referee’s attention. He didn’t appear to have seen either foul, but after consulting his assistant he showed a straight red to Thompson, and nothing to the Boro player.
“I was right next to it when it happened, and there was nothing in it to make a song and dance about,” says Emma. “I think the reaction from the Boro bench turned a molehill into a mountain. Thommo retaliated and that’s wrong, and I’m not saying she didn’t deserve to be sent off. But she retaliated to an offence that went unpunished, and that’s the part I find unacceptable.”
Leeds made changes for the second half, replacing the gap left by Thompson at the back with Ellie Hall, and giving some of the younger players more backup with Vicky Fytche and Emma Bentley. It was central defender Catherine Hamill who impressed most as Leeds tried to get back into the game, blocking multiple Boro attacks, while recent signing Zoe Doherty showed composure in midfield and looked for the runs of Nicolle Jepson and Shelbey Morris up front, who both ran themselves into the ground, defending from the front and looking for opportunities to nick an equaliser.
Ultimately the extra player advantage worked in Middlesbrough’s favour, as they added a fourth and a fifth, before securing their place in the second round of the League Cup by running the ball into the corners for the final few minutes.
“Cath and Zoe were the standout players for me,” says Emma. “Cath Hamill was brilliant, all grit and battle. I loved it.
“It was frustrating to lose. Once you get onto the pitch, all the sensible thoughts about forward planning and the bigger picture go out the window. There’s a game to be won and I felt we could have won it.
“We spoke in the changing rooms afterwards about how we need to show a reaction to this, how we need to fight back and make sure we win the next game. Luckily for us, this defeat has come in game that it hasn’t hurt us to lose, and it was a good situation to learn from.
“Some of our younger players will have got some valuable experience from this game, and we’ve all got the fire in us now to make sure we get the job done in the league against Hull on Wednesday night.”
Leeds Ladies vs Hull City kicks off at 7.45pm on Wednesday 2nd September, at the J.S. White & Co Community Stadium, Garforth Town AFC, Cedar Ridge, Garforth. Follow them on Twitter for fixtures and updates. Sign up for email updates and match reports from Moscowhite here.