LIVERPOOL LADIES slipped to a narrow defeat in their first leg, Champions League Round of 32 tie.
The Reds conceded an unfortunate first-half goal and then proceeded to do everything but score an equaliser as the game wore on. But Liverpool still have a real chance to progress after returning from Northern Italy with just a one-goal deficit, with the second leg to be played at the Select Stadium, Widnes next Wednesday night (October 14).
There was just the one change from Sunday’s 4-2 defeat away at Bristol Academy as Ashley Hodson came in for Maz Pacheco, a move that signalled a change in formation with Ingrid Ryland at left back, Martha Harris at right back and Gemma Bonner and Satara Murray in the middle of the defence.
Natasha Dowie led Liverpool up front with Lucy Staniforth and Hodson playing wide either side of her. Rosie White, Katrin Omarsdottir and Katie Zelem formed Liverpool’s midfield trio while Danielle Gibbons kept her place between the posts after replacing the injured Libby Stout at the weekend.
It was a quiet opening from both sides, yet it was Christiana Girelli and Valentina Cernoia of Brescia attempting to create the early flair; the latter twice thwarted by Ryland as the Norwegian first pressed well to prevent Cernoia’s cross meeting its target at the edge of the box and then wise to Girelli’s clever pass.
Liverpool’s early attempts saw Zelem lift a ball over the Italian back three but just a tad too far for Dowie to connect. Then, Omarsdottir’s tidy turn in midfield allowed the Reds to switch the play to Harris, who carried the ball forward and played a ball low towards Hodson. Her low cross was blocked, but the intent from Liverpool was promising.
After experiencing little luck breaking down a resilient Liverpool defence, the Italians turned to long-range efforts — the first sailing easily into Gibbons’ arms, the second however somehow eluded the keeper’s grip and went over the line to gift-wrap Brescia a fortunate 1-0 lead.
The Reds continued to press forward and Liverpool carved out their first real chance when Dowie’s turn and shot was cleared as far as Zelem only for her strike to bounce the wrong side of the post.
At half-time, Matt Beard made a change with Nigerian forward Asisat Oshoala coming in for Hodson.
From the kick off, Liverpool also registered a shot but unfortunately, unlike against Arsenal and Bristol, Staniforth’s halfway line strike landed a little short and into the arms of Chiara Marchitelli.
Opening our Champions League account against Brescia tonight!! Putting all our hard work into practice pic.twitter.com/8TRvOkcHMK
— Katie Zelem (@katiezel) October 7, 2015
Oshoala looked bright, always willing to chase balls over the top, and White picked her out before she delivered a low cross into the box towards Dowie only to be pulled back because the assistant referee adjudged the no.9 to be in an offside position.
Oshoala the again teed up Dowie — the striker hitting the ball first time just over the crossbar.
It was all Liverpool at the beginning of the second half, Harris’ cross being punched away by the goalkeeper only as far as Staniforth whose first-time strike was blocked.
As the Reds looked to be getting on top and edging ever closer to an equaliser, the outstanding Bonner was challenged in midfield and left looking in pain, with the captain needing an immediate substitution due to an ankle injury. Unfortunate injuries have been the story of Liverpool’s season and Shannon Beckwith replaced the crocked skipper.
Beckwith captained the club’s development squad to the league title in 2014-15 and this was her first-team debut; the young centre-back going on to put in a highly impressive, composed, calm and confident shift.
She ventured forward over the halfway line to intercept one forward pass — flicking it to the feet of Omarsdottir — and, prior to that, hooked the ball away under pressure from Brescia No.9 Daniela Sabatino, who had only Gibbons to beat if she had passed the defender.
The away goal would however continue to elude Liverpool, a tricky run from Oshoala saw her pass several Brescia players but the cross couldn’t meet Dowie in the centre and a late free kick from Staniforth went inches wide.
Liverpool go into the second leg a goal down and possibly a captain down as well, but with everything to play for against a very beatable side.
Tickets on the gate are just £5 an adult. Support the team, get down to Widnes next Wednesday. There is also the chance to cheer on the Reds this Sunday, when Liverpool Ladies are in action against Notts County in the Continental Cup semi-final. Kick off is 6.30pm at the Select Security Stadium.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Gibbons, Harris, Bonner © (Beckwith 57), Murray, Ryland, Omarsdottir, Zelem, White, Staniforth, Hodson (Oshoala 45), Dowie.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Martha Harris