LIVERPOOL Ladies and top-of-the-league Sunderland Ladies battled for a point in a tense 2-2 draw in Hetton on Saturday evening.
Sunderland had gone in front through Beth Mead before Liverpool’s Natasha Dowie netted an impressive equaliser. Rosie White then put the Reds ahead in the second half but a late goal from Kelly McDougal gave the North East side a share of the points.
The Reds lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Dowie leading the line, White behind her with Kate Longhurst to her left and Ashley Hodson to her right. Lucy Staniforth started alongside Katrin Omarsdottir in centre midfield in front of a back four of, from left to right, Mayumi Pacheco, Becky Easton, captain Gemma Bonner and Martha Harris. Libby Stout was again in goal.
Sunderland have been in fine form recently — prior to this game the Mackems had won their last five games, with a 4-0 thrashing of previous league leaders Chelsea Ladies followed by convincing wins at Bristol Academy (4-1) and Everton Ladies (5-2). Liverpool, meanwhile, were without a league win since the 3-1 victory away at Arsenal.
It was Sunderland who started the game brightly, piling forwards in numbers and looking to apply pressure from the first whistle. An early corner was tipped away by Stout, who also reacted quickly to a cross coming in from the left. The Liverpool No.1 also collected Greenwell’s free kick with ease after Omarsdottir was penalised for a foul on Beth Mead.
After what seemed to be an all-out siege, Liverpool began to grow into the game with 16-year old Pacheco excellently skipping past Abby Holmes on the left wing to put a cross in moments before Longhurst won a corner on the same side.
The resulting corner was attacked by Bonner at the near post but headed away only as far as Hodson who sent the ball back out to Staniforth. Her shot from the side of the 18-yard box was punched away by the goalkeeper, falling to the feet of White who blazed a strike over the crossbar.
Back up at the other end of the pitch Bonner and Easton were working hard together, with Bonner once again a leading example in the middle, and Pacheco coping well with England Under-23 international Mead, who continually drifted out to the right of the Sunderland attack, shielding well inside the box to force the striker back. On the one occasion the Reds defence had appeared to be breached but Bonner produced a last-ditch and well-timed sliding challenge to deny Mead.
Liverpool began to look the better side, Harris had a shot on target saved after good work by Hodson on the right wing and Longhurst’s lovely looping ball over the back four was only just missed by both Hodson and Dowie.
They will have felt unlucky then to go 1-0 down, the referee awarding Sunderland a penalty after judging that Easton had fouled Mead in the area and the no.9 stepping up to slot the ball into the bottom right corner.
Undeterred Liverpool pressed on, almost replying immediately after great build-up play when Bonner picked out Dowie with a long ball forward out towards the left for Longhurst to close down and switch the ball across to Harris on the right, her cross reaching Dowie who hit it first time but the wrong side of the post.
Dowie soon made amends, and in style, coming into possession midway through the Sunderland half, looking up to spot Hilde Gunn Olsen off her line and expertly lifting the ball past the keeper into the back of the net. It was Dowie’s fifth goal of 2015.
The sides went in level at half-time, despite Sunderland finishing the half strongly – Bonner blocking a goal-bound shot and Stout called upon to save from Holmes after the right-back had cut in to shoot from 20 yards.
Liverpool looked strong throughout the second half with Bonner vocally dictating play from the back and it should really have been 2-1 to the Reds just minutes in.
Again it was a great passing move beginning with Dowie receiving Harris’ throw-in, tapping across to Staniforth who sent Pacheco flying down the left. Her cross skimmed across the six-yard box, picked up once more by Dowie, who cut the ball back to White only for the New Zealander to shoot over.
The first substitution of the game saw Line Smorsgard take to the pitch in place of Hodson and the game then descended into 10 minutes of madness.
Easton had matched Mead’s run into the box well, with the ball eventually rolling to Stout who picked it up. The referee initially appeared to give an indirect free kick due to a back pass but after speaking to the linesman, deemed Mead had the final touch.
The home crowd and players were incensed by this decision, made no easier by the fact Liverpool immediately put themselves ahead. Once Stout received the ball back from the referee she sent it long for White to carry forward and chip Olsen to make it 2-1.
The crowd’s frustration appeared to rub off on Mead, who fouled Bonner before pushing Pacheco off the field. Pacheco had been subbed off for Corina Schroder but the board malfunctioned causing confusion. Tensions continued to grow as the home crowd began to boo Bonner’s every touch — not helped by the booking the Reds captain then picked up for a challenge on Mead.
Continuing the action at a frightening pace, the game developed into a real end-to-end finale with Schroder three times denying Mead while Omarsdottir had two defenders slide in front of her to prevent her strike from reaching the goal.
Sunderland equalised after a period of heavy pressure, McDougal grabbing the goal that would give them a point from the feisty encounter despite a late Staniforth free kick crashing off the underside of the crossbar and Omarsdottir unable to convert the rebound.
It was a great fighting performance from Liverpool, who were unlucky not to come away with three points. Next up for the Reds, they’re back in Continental Cup action against Durham WFC on Saturday (August 15) at Select Security Stadium, Widnes.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Stout, Harris, Bonner, Easton, Pacheco (Schroder), Omarsdottir, Staniforth, Hodson (Smorsgard), White, Longhurst, Dowie.
Player of the Match: Gemma Bonner