LIVERPOOL Ladies returned to FA Women’s Super League action with a convincing 3-1 win away at previously unbeaten Arsenal Ladies.
World Cup bronze medallist Fara Williams opened the scoring with a stunning long-range effort and then provided an assist via a corner for Becky Easton to score her first goal for the club.
Arsenal pulled a goal back in the second half with substitute Natalia Pablos Sanchez expertly chipping Libby Stout, before Asisat Oshoala sealed the Liverpool win with a lob of her own over Emma Byrne.
Danielle Gibbons, Corina Schroder, Ingrid Ryland and Lucy Staniforth were all sidelined for the Reds — the latter merely a precaution — while Katie Zelem is away on international duty with England U19s.
Making a welcome return to the starting 11 was Katrin Omarsdottir, the Icelandic midfielder making her first start of the season, and Ashley Hodson, returning following a knee injury picked up in pre-season.
Liverpool lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Natasha Dowie up front with Ashley Hodson, Kate Longhurst and Oshoala behind her. Omarsdottir partnered Williams in midfield ahead of the back four of, from left to right, Martha Harris, captain Gemma Bonner, Satara Murray and Easton — with Stout in goal.
Both Williams and Dowie were making their 50th Liverpool appearance.
Liverpool kicked the game off and immediately put their hosts on the back foot, pressing well and dominating the midfield — the return of Omarsdottir alongside Williams particularly significant.
The team were also creating chances, almost scoring straight away and then Oshoala sending a shot wide of the post — perhaps put off by Arsenal defender Casey Stoney who had matched her run into the box.
A crowd of 2,016 supporters packed out Arsenal’s Boreham Wood ground, with a great many of those wearing the red of Liverpool.
The travelling supporters didn’t have to wait long for a goal, Dowie brilliantly holding the ball with her back to goal and flicking it into the path of Williams, who wonderfully guided the ball past the helpless Emma Byrne in the Arsenal goal to put Liverpool 1-0 up.
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) July 12, 2015
Soon it was 2-0, Williams involved again — this time through a corner — swinging the set piece inside the six-yard box for Becky Easton to nod the ball over the line from a yard out.
Liverpools second goal was either a Fara Williams goal directly on a corner, or a Becky Easton goal. Tough call. pic.twitter.com/bc3i5jW0pK
— Katja Kragelund (@applessquabble) July 12, 2015
At the other end of the pitch, Satara Murray produced her best performance for the club since her winter transfer as she confidently shackled Danielle Carter. At one point in the first half, Carter found herself unable to turn midway in the Liverpool half with Murray coming from behind and dispossessing her. Later in the first half Murray also halted Carter at the edge of the box with a well-timed challenge and then prevented Alex Cross cutting the ball back into the box.
Williams was a great presence in the midfield for Liverpool, having played in each of England’s World Cup games and only training back with the team for the first time on Thursday — two more of the midfielder’s set pieces were almost converted with Bonner narrowly missing a header at the back post for one and then Byrne coming out among a sea of bodies to claim another.
In the same game last season Liverpool no.1 Stout produced her performance of the season in a 3-3 draw with a number of outstanding saves and it must be something about this ground as the American was excellent once again, denying Carla Humphrey in added time at the end of the first half minutes after reacting quickly to an Arsenal corner that had bounced awkwardly before reaching her.
Stout was helped by the defence in front of her, Bonner reliable as ever alongside Murray, with Longhurst and Omarsdottir also dropping deep at points to snuff out any Arsenal attack.
Both sides made substitutions at half time with New Zealand international Rosie White making her Liverpool debut after signing this week. She replaced Omarsdottir — with Longhurst moving back to partner Williams in midfield and White playing behind Dowie in-between Oshoala and Hodson. Arsenal’s Natalia Pablos Sanchez also joined the action in place of Jade Bailey.
Liverpool continued to create chance after chance in the second half, Hodson tried her luck from outside the box and the strike looked to be going wide but Byrne took no chances. Longhurst had a rocket of a shot blocked by Alex Scott and newcomer White showed some smart touches on the wing before putting her effort over the bar.
Although not on the score sheet, Dowie led the line well once more for the Reds, holding the ball well and causing the Arsenal defence, in particular Casey Stoney, all kinds of problems getting in and around them.
Arsenal reduced the deficit to 2-1 when substitute Natalia deftly chipped the ball over Stout with the inside of her foot after connecting with a long ball forward. Liverpool felt the Gunners no.7 was offside but the goal stood.
Liverpool’s second substitution of the game came as 16-year old Mayumi Pacheco came on for Williams — the World Cup star, pictured above, receiving a great reception from the home supporters as she was applauded off the pitch. Pacheco made her first team debut back in April, becoming the youngest player in the club’s history and continues to make great strides in her development — post-match it was great to see her in-demand among fans of both clubs as she signed autographs.
Shortly before the 90 minutes were up, Arsenal had a free kick in a dangerous position 25 yards out but it was sent straight into the arms of Stout, allowing Liverpool to counter and Oshoala to score her 3rd goal of the season, lobbing the ball over Emma Byrne.
Line Smorsgard was the last of the Liverpool substitutions, coming on for goalscorer Oshoala with minutes left on the clock.
LIVERPOOL: Stout, Easton, Bonner (captain), Murray, Harris, Omarsdottir (White), Williams (Pacheco), Oshoala (Smorsgard), Longhurst, Hodson, Dowie
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Fara Williams
Pics: Ian Mok/PA Images