AFTER kicking off the season with back-to-back defeats, Liverpool Ladies returned to winning ways with a convincing 2-1 win over Birmingham City last night.
The first three points of the Reds’ new campaign were confirmed with goals either side of half-time, first from the excellent Asisat Oshoala who later teed up Fara Williams for the second.
Birmingham pulled a goal back through Aoife Mannion, but Liverpool saw out the win with ease. Liverpool boss Matt Beard made three changes to his starting line-up from last week’s defeat to Sunderland with Becky Easton returning to the starting 11 in an unfamiliar holding midfield position in front of the back four of Martha Harris, Satara Murray, Gemma Bonner and Corina Schroder.
Liverpool looked to be playing a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Oshoala and Line Smorsgard switching between the right and left wings and Kate Longhurst and Fara Williams in the middle behind lone striker Natasha Dowie.
Right from the kick off the changes to the team and formation looked to have had a positive effect. Martha Harris played at left wing back the previous week and found her opportunities to get forward limited. But that was not the case this time as she constantly marauded up the pitch from right back, getting involved with Liverpool raids on the visiting defence. The first chance of the game coming after just three minutes with Harris finding Longhurst on the corner of the 18-yard box with her back to goal. She set the ball for Fara Williams to have an effort on goal but her first-time strike was blocked. The introduction of Easton in the middle as a shield to the defence was also paying off. In the 3-1 FA Cup defeat to the same opposition last month, the Blues midfield had swamped the centre of the park, making it difficult for Liverpool to find their passing rhythm. With Easton sweeping up in front of the back four and Williams and Longhurst ahead of her, Liverpool made sure there was no repeat, the the trio first to every ball and winning possession at each turn. One Birmingham player who proved to be frustrated by the Reds’ control of the midfield on the night was Remi Allen. Allen had netted a penalty during her side’s cup win but seemed to be trying her hardest to take out as many Liverpool players as she could. Easton was the first to be on the receiving end, cutting her face on the turf pitch in the process. During the rest of the game Allen gave away a string of free kicks, somehow avoiding picking the referee’s notebook for the majority of the game.
Liverpool looked the better side all round, creating chances and defending well. Williams looked to be relishing her advanced position on the pitch, making runs, pinging the ball about and almost setting Dowie through on goal with a clever attempted lob over the back four. Williams also watched her free kick from 25 yards go narrowly wide of the Birmingham post.
All of Liverpool’s attacking play seemed to go through Oshoala, the winter signing wreaking havoc in the Birmingham half, constantly winning the ball back, making mazy runs and providing tidy flicks to her fellow attackers.
Williams’ free kick effort was won after Oshoala had ran practically from the halfway line to the edge of the box. The Nigerian also fired wide after being set up by Dowie and was part of some nice build up play from the Reds which ended when Smorsgard was eventually dispossessed in the six-yard box.
The breakthrough almost came on 30 minutes when Longhurst watched the ball drop before executing a perfect volley into the corner of the net only to see her goal chalked off after the referee ruled there had been a foul in the build up.
It was deja vu for Longhurst after the number seven had a disallowed strike against Manchester City in 2014’s opening game — a decision that remains questionable.
Shortly after Birmingham almost took the lead themselves. Liverpool No.1 Stout was off her line to clear a free kick 30 yards from goal but the ball fell to Jo Potter who attempted to score a Xabi Alonso0-style effort from the halfway line but her shot drifted wide.
Oshoala and Liverpool were rewarded for their effort on the stroke of half-time. Bonner, in an advanced position on the right wing, swung a cross in that landed invitingly for Oshoala who volleyed the ball with perfect execution to put Liverpool in the lead and notch her first goal in the FA Women’s Super League.
After the break Birmingham went more direct and twice Stout was called into action to punch away in a crowded penalty area.
When Longhurst was fouled on the halfway line by – surprise, surprise – Allen, Bonner’s free kick was almost converted by Smorsgard but her shot was blocked and the rebound didn’t fall kindly for Oshoala. Smorsgard, who signed for Liverpool in January. looked her sharpest yet for the Reds and was replaced with 20 minutes to play by Nicole Rolser.
Shortly after the substitution, Oshoala found herself in space on the right of the area, crossing the ball low into the oncoming Williams who smashed the ball into the back of the net to double Liverpool’s lead. It was Williams’ third against Birmingham in the last three league meetings between the sides after she netted the equaliser in the 1-1 here last season and then scored an audacious winner in the away tie in 2014, chipping the keeper from the halfway line.
Liverpool were pressing for more goals and Williams swung a free kick into the box from the right. Her initial cross was blocked but her second attempt found Bonner’s head only for Becky Spencer to pull off a good save, diving well to her left to deny the Liverpool captain.
Birmingham pulled a goal back after Harris and Stout both thought they had seen the ball safely out for a goal kick only for Blues centre back Aoife Mannion to impressively score from a tight angle to make it 2-1.
Lucy Staniforth came on late in the second half for goalscorer and creator Oshoala who was rightly applauded by the crowd as she exited the pitch.
Staniforth was soon involved, making a lovely turn away from a Birmingham midfielder and playing the ball to Rolser who tried to tee up Dowie but the Reds no.9 was crowded out.
What should have been a great night for Liverpool was marred slightly by an incident in the last minute when Longhurst was knocked unconscious by a challenge from Allen and needed long treatment on the pitch. She later posted on Twitter to confirm she was OK.
Great performance & win! Thanks 4 all the texts/ tweets I’m absolutely fine, just had a nap on the pitch and got a little bump #twal
— kate longhurst (@katelonghurst20) April 1, 2015
The season now takes an international break. Next Thurday Gemma Bonner, Nastasha Dowie and Fara Williams will be involved in England’s final friendly before this summer’s World Cup. The friendly against China is at Manchester City’s 7,000 seater academy stadium and tickets are still available.
Wales also have two games against Slovakia in Bangor and Reds defender Emilie Revitt could be in line to make her first senior appearance for her country.
Liverpool Ladies are next in action on April 19 with an away trip to Chelsea Ladies FC.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Stout; Harris, Bonner, Murray, Schroder; Easton; Smorsgard (Rolser 69), Williams, Longhurst (Dale 90), Oshoala (Staniforth 90); Dowie.
Player of the Match: Asisat Oshoala