LIVERPOOL Ladies kicked off their 2015 Continental Cup campaign with a 2-0 victory over Everton Ladies in front of a crowd of 1,073 supporters in Widnes.
Reds no.9 Natasha Dowie was on target twice, netting both goals either side of half-time, and the striker has now scored a total of seven goals against her former club.
The injury-stricken Reds were without a number of key first-team players in Fara Williams, Satara Murray and Asisat Oshoala. That meant the ever-versatile Kate Longhurst moved alongside captain Gemma Bonner and Becky Easton in the centre of defence, with Mayumi Pacheco at left-wing-back and Martha Harris on the right.
Lucy Staniforth was handed her first start in a red shirt, alongside Katrin Omarsdottir in midfield, while Line Smorsgard made her first start in the second half of the season as part of an attacking trio that also contained Dowie and Rosie White. Libby Stout retained her position in goal.
Dowie gave Liverpool the lead in the opening minute. After latching on to a back pass, her first strike was blocked by Everton goalkeeper Kirstie Levell but Dowie regained possession, rounded the 18-year old keeper and tapped in from six yards.
The Liverpool striker could have had a hat-trick in the opening 10 minutes, a well-struck low drive only just palmed wide before a second was blocked by the defence, Smorsgard sending the rebound over the bar.
While Dowie was causing the Blues defence all kinds of problems, Staniforth was pulling the strings in midfield, as well as taking over set piece duties from Williams. She carried the ball right through to the byline and cut it back upfield to Pacheco but the cross was cleared. Pacheco then shot wide after latching on to a loose ball following more good work from Staniforth on the left and moments later the midfielder was showing off her skills in the centre of the park, taking the ball down well and backheeling to Omarsdottir.
The two then almost combined to set up Smorsgard, Omarsdottir — not to be outdone in the skills department — neatly looping Staniforth’s pass over the top of the Everton back line but the defence reacting quickly to prevent birthday girl Smorsgard from connecting.
Liverpool were almost punished for not taking their chances when Blues captain Michelle Hinnigan hit the post, an Amy Turner free kick was also blocked by the Reds wall before another strike took a deflection leaving Stout stranded but luckily for Liverpool bouncing the wrong side of the post.
White had the best chance to make it 2-0 before half-time when Harris, working tirelessly on the wing, put her through into the 18-yard box with just the keeper to beat but Levell did well to get down and block the New Zealander’s strike.
Emerging unchanged for the second half, Liverpool appeared to switch to a flat back four with Longhurst moving into midfield.
Despite the change, Pacheco continued to get forward, twice linking with Staniforth and kickstarting Reds attacks — the second leading to Longhurst shooting over the crossbar.
Liverpool had a couple of scares early in the second half, first when former player Kelly Jones somehow skewed her shot wide after slipping through the defence, then when Simone Magill’s cross whizzed across the six-yard box and fell to Hinnigan, who couldn’t find a way back in past Pacheco.
Everton were left to rue these missed opportunities when — only minutes after having a goal disallowed for offside — Dowie capitalised on yet another mix up in the Everton defence to volley home her second of the game.
Ashley Hodson then replaced Smorsgard and was immediately involved in the thick of the action putting Levell under pressure after a good delivery from Pacheco. Hodson also made a couple of fine runs forward, very nearly setting up White after a mazy run in from the right only for White to be pulled back for offside.
The Reds were then forced into a second substitution as Bonner went down off the ball. She was replaced by Hannah Dale, meaning Liverpool had three homegrown players on the pitch, with one more on the bench in the form of 17-year old goalkeeper Rachel Darbyshire.
Bonner leaving the field meant Longhurst once more stepped back into defence. The versatile forward has now played in numerous positions across the field for Liverpool this season and is guaranteed to give her all no matter where she plays. She saw out the game out solidly from the heart of the Reds defence — clearing an Everton cross with ease, shielding a forward out wide and then superbly carrying the ball all the way to the opposition 18-yard box before passing to Staniforth whose shot was deflected and then tapped over the line by Dowie — the striker denied by an offside flag.
Liverpool’s final substitution of the game saw Ingrid Ryland come on for the excellent Pacheco. And she almost added a third goal in the final minute after a quick counter attack, her strike curling towards the top corner but drifting just wide.
Liverpool’s attention turns back to the Women’s Super League on Sunday as they travel to Birmingham City Ladies for a 2pm kick-off.
LIVERPOOL: Stout, Bonner (Dale), Easton, Longhurst, Harris, Pacheco (Ryland), Omarsdottir, Staniforth, Smorsgard (Hodson), White, Dowie.
Player of the match: Longhurst