NATASHA Dowie was on the score sheet once again for Liverpool Ladies on Wednesday evening as the Reds booked their place in the Continental Cup quarter-finals, beating Sunderland Ladies 2-0 in Widnes.
Dowie also provided the assist for Katrin Omarsdottir’s 90th-minute strike to seal the victory for the Reds.
Liverpool’s impressive defensive back line remained unchanged, with Libby Stout in goal behind Martha Harris, Gemma Bonner, Becky Easton and Mayumi Pacheco. And that line up recorded the Reds’ fourth straight clean sheet of the competition.
In midfield Omarsdottir came in for Lucy Staniforth, who was sitting this one out through illness, alongside Katie Zelem and Kate Longhurst, with Rosie White, Ashley Hodson and Dowie up front.
The Reds have enjoyed an upturn in form recently and from the opening whistle dominated Sunderland, who were not helped by being forced into an early substitution after Vicky Williams collided with her own player and was replaced by Vicky Greenwell.
Dowie has scored in each of Liverpool’s cup wins so far and was involved in the thick of the action once more; cleverly flicking Harris’ throw to the feet of Zelem, whose low drive from just inside the area was collected at the near post by Hilde Gunn Olsen in the Sunderland goal.
The no.9 was then the target for Harris’ probing ball into the six-yard box, Olsen stretching to tip the ball away minutes before Dowie headed narrowly wide from Bonner’s pinpoint forward pass — this after Pacheco’s cross had been cleared.
Liverpool continued to pile on the pressure, pressing through the excellent work rate of Longhurst and Hodson and passing the ball around well, never allowing the frustration of being unable to break Sunderland down affect their play.
The Reds were also quick on the counter attack, Zelem and White combining, with the latter sending a through ball straight past the centre backs and Zelem chasing but Olsen was wise to the danger and came off her line to halt the run.
With the score tied at 0-0 despite a string of chances for Liverpool, Sunderland’s Beth Mead appeared to get around the back of the Reds defence. Poised to shoot on the 18-yard box, Easton swooped in with a ferocious block to deny Mead and send the ball out for a corner.
The game somehow remained goalless at half-time, despite Dowie hitting the crossbar, White seeing her rebound strike from Zelem’s blocked header cleared off the line and Omarsdottir having a free kick deflected by the wall.
Sunderland’s chances were few and far between during the first 45 but with defeat ended their hopes of finishing in the top two of the Continental Cup group, and automatic qualification for the quarter-finals, it was no surprise to see them coming out fighting during the second half.
The introduction of Abbey Joice early in the half gave the Black Cats more of an attacking edge, however twice as Joice squared the ball towards Brooke Chaplen the former Everton midfielder could only send her shots over the bar. Mead also continued to be denied, first by Bonner, who blocked a shot, and then by Harris who put an end to her run down the left wing.
As the Liverpool defence stood strong, Dowie and White together won a corner, the resulting set piece swung in by White, who had taken over duties from the sidelined Staniforth, and Dowie headed over the line from two yards out to give the Reds a deserved 1-0 lead.
Easton produced another of her now classic sliding tackles to prevent Sarah McFadden continuing her run, while Bonner continually tidied up at the back. Stout was also twice called into action, first to collect Rachel Furness’ tricky low strike and then expertly tipping Mead’s goalbound effort over the crossbar.
With the game entering the final few minutes, Liverpool won another corner which White once again stepped up to take. Dowie had positioned herself parallel to the 18-yard box and upon receiving the ball short from White, played a one-two with Bonner before crossing to Omarsdottir at the back post who made no mistake, smashing the ball past Olsen to secure the three points and the quarter-final spot for the Reds ahead of their final group fixture away at Manchester City on Sunday.
LIVERPOOL: Stout, Harris, Bonner, Easton, Pacheco, Omarsdottir, Longhurst (Murray 76), Zelem (Smorsgard 65), Hodson (Ryland 89), White, Dowie
Player of the match: Natasha Dowie