NATASHA Dowie scored all four goals for Liverpool Ladies as the Reds booked their place in the Continental Cup semi-finals with an emphatic victory over Bristol Academy.
Dowie had looked isolated during the 2-0 defeat to Manchester City midweek but led the line for Liverpool admirably ahead of an attacking trio of Katie Zelem, Kate Longhurst and Rosie White while Katrin Omarsdottir and Lucy Staniforth started in midfield.
Libby Stout kept her place in goal despite pulling her groin with Gemma Bonner taking over goal-kick duties and partnering Satara Murray in the centre of defence. Ingrid Ryland returned at left- back with Martha Harris completing the line up on the right.
Two weeks earlier these sides had met in a league tie, with Liverpool coming out 2-0 winners in that game. And since that clash Bristol suffered a 3-0 defeat to Birmingham — a result that effectively condemned them to relegation.
This meant that, like Liverpool, Bristol were left fighting on just one front competitively and they initially proved tough for the Reds to break down.
Liverpool’s first chance came from a set piece, with Staniforth’s inviting low ball finding White at the near post only for the New Zealander to send her effort curling just inches wide of the post.
Staniforth was involved again moments later as the Reds turned on the style in a wonderful passing move. Longhurst won possession on the halfway line, sending the ball to Zelem on the right wing who clipped it first time towards Staniforth. She passed back out wide to Dowie and the striker’s cross fizzed across the box but White was unable to provide the finishing touch the build-up play deserved.
Throughout the 90 minutes Liverpool continued to display fine passing, moving the ball quickly despite Bristol’s attempts to close them down; Dowie flicking Harris’ throw-in to the feet of Omarsdottir and Ryland, playing her best game in the shirt yet, making a number of mazy runs down the left.
The first shot Bristol had on target was well saved by Stout and Bonner once more made defending look effortless as she side-stepped Christie Murray to bring the ball out of defence.
Before taking the lead, Dowie was twice denied at close range by Mary Earps in the Bristol goal. First after meeting a pinpoint pass over the top of the defence by Zelem and then after connecting with Harris’s cross.
However, Earps couldn’t produce a save for Dowie’s spot kick — awarded after White was pulled down in the box — with the Reds’ leading goalscorer stepping up to send her the wrong way to give Liverpool a deserved 1-0 lead.
Bristol almost responded immediately after Anghared James powered forward into the Reds area but her run was matched all the way by Murray and her cut back cleared by Harris.
They would soon have their equaliser however, summer signing Jade Boho-Sayo with the long-range strike to beat Stout and send the sides in level at half-time.
After the break, Liverpool never really looked in danger of conceding a second and it seemed only a matter of time until the Reds regained their lead.
The goal eventually came when Ryland’s cross being dinked over Earps by Dowie for her 40th goal for Liverpool.
It suddenly became all Liverpool and Dowie soon had her hat-trick, White sending her through and Dowie keeping her composure to finish low past Earps.
White and Hodson were both denied by the goalkeeper before Zelem and Dowie hit the crossbar as Liverpool pushed for a fourth.
Late substitutions seen Mayumi Pacheco and Line Smorsgard come on for Ingrid Ryland and Rosie White; Smorsgard having a claim for a penalty waved away by the referee.
To the home crowd’s dismay it would end 4-1 to Liverpool, who else but Natasha Dowie to round off a prolific afternoon in front of goal with another well-taken strike to beat Earps.
Liverpool march on into the semi-finals where they will meet one of Notts County, Birmingham City or Arsenal/ Manchester City.
LIVERPOOL: Stout, Harris, Murray, Bonner ©, Ryland (Pacheco), Omarsdottir (Hodson), Staniforth, Zelem, Longhurst, White (Smorsgard), Dowie
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Natasha Dowie