LIVERPOOL Ladies fell to a second straight league defeat at Birmingham City yesterday with a first-half penalty from Karen Carney proving to be the difference.
Reds boss Matt Beard made just one change from the side that beat Everton Ladies midweek in the Continental Cup with Katie Zelem returning to the starting 11 following time away with England U19s. She lined up in a midfield three with Lucy Staniforth and Katrin Omarsdottir. Up front, Natasha Dowie led the line accompanied by Rosie White and Line Smorsgard while in defence Liverpool reverted to a flat back four of Becky Easton, Gemma Bonner, Kate Longhurst and Martha Harris with Libby Stout in goal.
Liverpool have been hit hard by injury in recent weeks, with Fara Williams, Asisat Oshoala and Satara Murray all facing up to two months on the sidelines. With Murray out, Longhurst has admirably stepped back into defence with the forward — in her third season at the club — playing in an entirely new position. The no.7 was called into action early in the first half as Birmingham pressed high and looked to pressure Liverpool, Longhurst twice clearing from high balls sent into the 18-yard box.
The only goal of the game came in the seventh minute — the referee awarding the Blues a penalty after adjudging Martha Harris to have handled just inside the area. England international and Birmingham captain Carney stepped up to send the spot kick home, Stout unable to keep it out despite diving the right way.
Birmingham continued to probe with Melissa Lawley a stand out on the right while Carney was consistently thwarted by Easton, who was proving tough to beat for the skipper.
Liverpool’s first foray into the opposition area came after 10 minutes, Staniforth’s delivery from a set piece only just failing to find the run of Bonner at the back post. Liverpool’s finest chances of the first half arrived at the midway point.
First, Omarsdottir won the ball deep inside the Reds half and clipped it back to Bonner who played a pass forward to Harris making a run down the left wing. Harris’ cross was picked up by Smorsgard who tried to tee up Dowie but Birmingham’s defence crowded out the no.9.
Minutes later Liverpool were again quick to break after regaining possession, this time Longhurst winning the ball in the Reds box and playing a quick one-two with Harris to run almost the entire length of the pitch — the eventual low cross collected by Becky Spencer in the Birmingham goal before Dowie could reach it.
Towards the end of the half, Birmingham once more began to look the team most likely to score; Zelem blocking Kirsty Linnet’s cross, Bonner clearing a long ball that was sent back in and punched away by Stout — who also denied Lawley, saving a low shot after a mazy run from the halfway line.
During the early stages of the second half, Birmingham spurned chances to go 2-0 up. Omarsdottir continued to frustrate Carney, who shot wide after being put under pressure from the Icelandic. Remi Allen also sent a strike high and wide after picking up on a loose ball when Omarsdottir blocked Linnett’s cross.
Beard made a double substitution, introducing a tactical change as Ingrid Ryland and Ashley Hodson entered the fray in place of Staniforth and Smorsgard. Ryland’s introduction prompted a change at the back as Longhurst moved into midfield, Easton to centre back and Ryland on the right.
Hodson had made a difference after coming on as a substitute in the midweek derby and almost impacted the scoreline here shortly after taking to the field when Bonner found herself battling Linnett in the Blues half, holding the striker off well to get the ball forward to White at the edge of the box. Her effort was blocked as far as Hodson, whose first-time strike from a narrow angle went over the bar.
At the other end Stout produced a fantastic save from Jo Potter’s free kick, stretching to tip the effort away.
Liverpool continued to work hard for an opening with Bonner leading the attack from the back but the Reds just couldn’t find a way to break the stubborn Birmingham defence despite Hodson linking well with Zelem and a further formation change to three at the back following the introduction of Corina Schroder in place of Longhurst.
The defeat leaves Liverpool sixth in the league on nine points, with six league games to play.
Liverpool face Doncaster Belles away this Thursday (July 30) in the Continental Cup before returning to WSL action on Saturday, August 8 when they travel to top of the league Sunderland Ladies.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Stout, Easton, Bonner (c), Longhurst (Schroder), Harris, Omarsdottir, Zelem, Staniforth (Ryland), White, Smorsgard (Hodson), Dowie.
Player of the match: Bonner