LIVERPOOL go into a two-month break for the Women’s World Cup on the back of a defeat after they were undone by a Fern Whelan goal at Notts County Ladies.
The 90 minutes would prove frustrating once again for the Reds in a performance that almost mirrored the defeat at Chelsea two weeks ago. Again, they dominated possession — particularly in the first half — but the Reds had no answer to Whelan’s header via a set piece midway through the second half.
Liverpool were unchanged from their previous three games with Natasha Dowie leading the line, Asisat Oshoala on the right wing, Line Smorsgard on the left and Kate Longhurst and Fara Williams partnering in the centre of midfield.
Becky Easton was once again stationed in front of the back four of — from right to left — Martha Harris, captain Gemma Bonner, Satara Murray and Corina Schroder with Libby Stout in goal.
Notts County got the game underway and Liverpool soon mounted an attack down the right, with Oshoala sprinting with the ball all the way to the six-yard box before forcing Carly Telford into an early save to win a corner.
County’s Jess Clarke is one of the best attacking players in the league and Schroder, tasked with handling her during the game, stood her ground well. She intercepted Clarke’s through ball to Ellen White, then got ahead of Clarke to nick possession before later dispossessing the winger after getting across brilliantly and forcing her away from goal.
Liverpool tried to replicate last week’s winning goal against Manchester City, with Harris finding Dowie in the 18-yard box with a throw from the right. Dowie tapped it on to Oshoala but this time the Nigerian was offside.
Oshoala was a bright spark during the opening 45 minutes, chasing long balls forward, winning corners and forcing yet another good save from Telford. And on the stroke of half-time she latched on to a pass from Bonner before picking out Fara Williams whose strike was blocked by Dani Buet.
The game was proving to be a battle of the defences, as the same tie had done at the same point in the season last year. Liverpool’s impressive back four was countered resolutely by Rick Passmoor’s new-look Notts back line, featuring two signings from Everton Ladies in centre-back Whelan and left-back Alex Greenwood.
Liverpool did have the better chances of the first half and their set pieces were a constant threat with Williams seeing a free kick held by Telford and a corner just skimming past both Oshoala and Satara Murray.
Liverpool boss Matt Beard made one change at half-time, with Nicole Rolser coming on for Smorsgard. And the change had an immediate impact with the German winger a little more direct with her attacking play.
Rolser almost played Dowie in early in the second-half but the Liverpool number nine was prevented from reaching the ball before it went out of play by Whelan.
@Official_NCLFC game last night vs Liverpool attendance was 2,057. Is this the biggest @FAWSL league crowd to date? pic.twitter.com/Y7CHZThkyw
— Drew Smith (@DrewSmithPhoto) May 11, 2015
County also had chances early in the second half with Whelan shooting wide before a ball into the Reds area bounced awkwardly behind Stout but Harris was well positioned to clear the danger.
Clarke had found her game stunted on the right wing in the first half and in the second switched to the left only to be equally as frustrated by the excellent Harris, a well-timed challenge preventing Clarke from crossing.
Liverpool continued to be the dominant side, Dowie holding off players in midfield, turning well and passing out wide to Rolser. At times the partnership between the two was reminiscent of the 2013 link up which produced 20-plus goals and is at least one positive Liverpool can take with them into the second half of the season.
Bonner has been in magnificent form at centre back so far this season and that was again the case as the captain’s last-ditch interception stopped Rachel Williams who must have thought she had a free shot on goal.
County took the lead from a corner midway through the half, the impressive Whelan heading the ball into the back of the net.
Liverpool searched for an equaliser in vain, Beard introducing Ingrid Ryland and Katie Zelem but for all their pressure in and around the box the Reds just couldn’t get past Telford.
The result leaves Liverpool Ladies in fifth place in the league table, eight points behind leaders Chelsea Ladies but with a game in hand.
Beard told BBC Sport after the game: “We had enough chances to win two games today if I’m honest. It is something that is getting frustrating now because the same thing happened at Chelsea. They didn’t really cause us any problems throughout the 90 minutes.”
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Stout, Harris, Bonner (c), Murray, Schroder (Ryland 69), Easton (Zelem 76), Oshoala, Williams, Longhurst, Smorsgard (Rolser 45), Dowie
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Martha Harris
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