GOALS either side of half-time from Jess Clarke sent injury-plagued Liverpool Ladies crashing to a home defeat against Notts County.
Rosie White had fired a first-half equaliser on her first start for the Reds but it wasn’t enough to save Liverpool, who now sixth in the table, eight points adrift from table-topping Chelsea Ladies, who suffered a 4-0 defeat at Sunderland.
There were a couple of changes to the side that beat Arsenal Ladies 3-1 away from home last weekend; White and Mayumi Pacheco were both handed their full first-team debuts replacing Ashley Hodson and Katrin Omarsdottir. Ingrid Ryland and Lucy Staniforth, both missing last week, were named on the bench while Corina Schroder remains sidelined.
Liverpool also underwent a formation change, from 4-2-3-1 to 4-1-4-1 with Becky Easton stationed in front of a back four of Martha Harris at right-back, Gemma Bonner and Satara Murray in the centre and Pacheco on the left with Libby Stout in goal.
Fara Williams partnered Kate Longhurst in the centre of midfield, White on the left, Asisat Oshoala on the right and Natasha Dowie up front.
Liverpool captain Bonner was making her 50th appearance for the club.
Notts regularly draw plaudits for their defence, yet it was their attack that impressed most from the opening whistle as Dunia Susi, Ellen White and Jess Clarke got themselves in and around the Liverpool defence, putting the Reds under pressure. Susi’s cross in the second minute was cleared by the well-positioned Easton but County surged forward again for Clarke to try her luck from 25 yards out only to find Libby Stout was wise to the danger and quickly across to claim the ball.
But County opened the scoring shortly afterwards, a free kick sent into the box by Alex Greenwood was headed on and finished by Clarke.
Barely pausing for breath, County continued to pile forward, Pacheco dealing well with an awkward ball over the top before Murray was put under pressure from Rachel Williams and White, clearing from inside the box but seconds later finding herself having to once more defend from a quick-fire attack.
Liverpool began to find their feet with Dowie, who provided assists for two of the goals against Arsenal, dropping a little deeper to pick the ball up. The tactic was for the striker to win the ball in midfield with her back to goal then turn to play in Oshoala and exploit her pace. Twice in the first half this paid off, first Oshoala making it to the edge of the area only to be brought down by Amy Turner, then later taking the ball out wide — with Williams having made the run into the middle — only this time the Nigerian ran into traffic and was dispossessed.
Williams swung a promising free kick into the box towards Bonner making a run at the back post and this was cleared as far as Oshoala whose strike was blocked.
Liverpool were beginning to look the side most likely to score but at the other end Bonner read a Notts set piece well to come out and prevent Williams from knocking the free kick on and Martha Harris’ shot-cross went so narrowly over the crossbar that some supporters in attendance thought it was in.
The crowd of 867 — a somewhat disappointing figure given the rise in ticket sales across the league following the Women’s World Cup — were soon rewarded with a goal.
The Reds won a free kick midway into the Notts half, Williams sending a clever low ball towards Longhurst, who saw her shot blocked. But Notts couldn’t clear in time and White scored her first Liverpool goal from just inside the six-yard box.
Liverpool finished the first half strongly, perhaps unlucky not to go in at the break ahead when Dowie bravely went in for a cross in the box and was clattered by goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain. Chamberlain then denied Dowie again, touching her long-range strike over the crossbar.
The keeper’s hat-trick of heroics was complete when she then produced a good reaction save to stop Oshoala before collecting Bassett’s header after Liverpool produced their best football of the game.
Shortly before the half-time whistle, Oshoala was challenged once again by Turner and required treatment on the pitch. She emerged with the rest of the team after the break, however Satara Murray had also picked up an injury during the opening 45 minutes and was replaced by Katrin Omarsdottir. Not long into the second half, Oshoala could no longer play on with Ashley Hodson replacing her.
Murray leaving the pitch at half-time meant Easton moved back alongside Bonner at centre-back and Omarsdottir took up the position of defensive midfielder.
The disruptions meant that the free-flowing football Liverpool had displayed towards the end of the first-half took a hit and once more they found themselves fending off the Notts attack. Bonner was everywhere, clearing three balls in quick succession.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, Notts were soon back in the lead. Jess Clarke scoring her second of the game and Ellen White with her second assist. Liverpool appealed that Clarke was offside when the ball was played, but the goal stood.
Matt Beard made his third and final change with Lucy Staniforth taking to the pitch in place of Dowie, the move seeing Longhurst move up front and later a formation change as Liverpool went to a three at the back of Bonner, Easton and Harris, with Pacheco going to left wing.
Up front Longhurst continued to work tirelessly; breaking into the box, but carrying the ball a yard too far and having her strike from a tight angle save. Then Longhurst cleverly dummied a pass, Harris attempted to get behind the defence but Notts regained possession.
Liverpool’s afternoon went from bad to worse as Williams had to leave the pitch. She had received treatment pitch-side moments earlier but the injury forced her out of the game and Liverpool, with no substitutes remaining, were reduced to 10 players for the final 10 minutes plus injury time.
Rosie White had a late chance to equalise for the second time, receiving the ball with her back to goal and holding off her marker well to turn but the Reds new signing just couldn’t get the power behind the final shot and Chamberlain collected.
Liverpool are back in action when the Continental Cup group stage begins in Widnes on Thursday night with the first derby of 2015 against WSL2’s Everton Ladies. The game is classed as an Everton home game and Liverpool season ticket holders will need to buy tickets on the gate or online.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Stout, Harris, Bonner (c), Murray (Omarsdottir), Pacheco, Easton, Oshoala (Hodson), Williams, Longhurst, White, Dowie (Staniforth).
Player of the match: Rosie White