LIVERPOOL LADIES capped off a frustrating league campaign with a final day 4-2 defeat away at Bristol Academy.
The Reds had fought back to make it 1-1 after going a goal down, but Bristol raced into a three-goal lead before Natasha Dowie added a late consolation, heading home a corner.
Elsewhere in the league Chelsea Ladies emphatically beat Sunderland 4-0 to claim their first league title and a 2-1 victory for Manchester City, in front of an impressive crowd of 3,180, secured second place and Champions League football in 2016-17.
Goalkeeper Libby Stout had been injured during the closing stages of the 4-0 defeat to Chelsea Ladies last weekend and did not travel with Danielle Gibbons making her return between the posts after brain surgery in the summer.
Dowie led the line up front, with Maz Pacheco, Satara Murray, Gemma Bonner and Martha Harris in defence; Rosie White playing wide left, Ingrid Ryland on the right, Lucy Staniforth and Katrin Omarsdottir in the middle and Katie Zelem playing behind Dowie.
Bristol took an early lead, Anghared James battling her way through the defence to cross low to Caroline Weir and the Scot turning away well in the box from both Bonner and Harris to finish past Gibbons.
Good pressure in and around the box by Liverpool eventually paid off when first Harris’ throw-in landed at the feet of Dowie but the Liverpool number nine couldn’t turn against the tight marking. Then Ryland, who has enjoyed a good run of form of late despite results, was influential in the Reds’ best passing move of perhaps the entire 90 minutes.
Winning the ball in midfield, she passed to Staniforth who turned to play in Omarsdottir. She carried it forward past a number of Bristol shirts before passing back wide to Ryland, who still found herself in space however the cross was headed away.
The equaliser came as a result of Liverpool just getting the ball forward among the defence and into the box, White’s cross hitting Bristol defender Hannah Short to bring the score level.
But Bristol would retake their lead before half-time, Christie Murray lifting the ball over Gibbons and into the back of the net.
Weir almost added a third twice before half-time, first watching an audacious long range effort fly wide before being denied by Gibbons’ quick reaction save. Not long into the second half however, the Scottish international would make it 3-1, converting a cross sent in from the left.
Staniforth, as she had against Arsenal, attempted to score from the restart and was only denied by a fingertips save from Earps. Taking the corner short and receiving the ball back, Staniforth was once more thwarted only by Earps who again sent the strike out for a corner.
Ashley Hodson had replaced Pacheco at the break, with Harris moving across to cover left-back and Ryland going to the right side of defence.
Working tirelessly again up front, Dowie was drifting out wide to pick up the ball, winning multiple corners that Liverpool were unable to take advantage off.
Dowie had the ball in the back of the net after good build up play by the Reds, Ryland’s throw finding Omarsdottir who was quickly closed down and passed back up the line to Ryland who then picked out Zelem; the midfielder setting Dowie up with a through ball who finished nicely but the assistant referee had flagged for offside.
Bristol also had a goal disallowed for offside shortly afterwards but soon made it 4-1 with Tatiana Pinto getting on the score sheet.
Liverpool refused to back down, Zelem shooting wide after a cut back from substitute Asisat Oshoala and Staniforth having a driving free kick blocked.
Dowie pulled a goal back after a series of corners. White swung a corner in towards the back post, this was headed on by Bonner and sent over the line by Dowie — scoring her sixth goal past Bristol this year.
They kept pushing, looking to close the gap further, Dowie cutting in from the left to win a corner in an attack that mirrored an earlier move. This came to nothing and after four minutes of added time, the already relegated Bristol side finished their season with a 4-2 win.
The defeat caps a disappointing league season for Liverpool Ladies, never able to get off the ground and marred by injuries to key players throughout — Corina Schroder missing the majority of the year, Fara Williams still yet to return after three months out and Kate Longhurst the most recent to be sidelined.
Becky Easton, Danielle Gibbons, Satara Murray, Ingrid Ryland, Line Smorsgard, Ashley Hodson, Katrin Omarsdottir, Asisat Oshoala, Libby Stout and Lucy Staniforth have all missed games, a total of 14 first team players and Liverpool have never had a fully fit squad for Matt Beard to choose a starting 11 from.
Despite this, there are positives the Reds can carry forward into the next season — for whichever manager comes in. The players have shown grit and determination, especially young players Maz Pacheco, Katie Zelem and Ashley Hodson who might not have had the game time without the injuries.
It was also pleasing to see Shannon Beckwith on the bench against Bristol. She is a talented young centre-back who reads the game well and captained the club’s development side to the league title earlier this year. Rachel Darbyshire and Mollie Green have also gained valuable experience being around the first team both in training and on match days.
Gemma Bonner has performed remarkably for a struggling side, Martha Harris has had a fine second season, Natasha Dowie’s goals once again proving a bright spark and Kate Longhurst had been exceptional up until her injury — playing every position but goalkeeper.
Liverpool have an important trio of games over the next couple of weeks, starting with an away tie at Brescia CF this upcoming Wednesday in the Champions League Round of 32 and the home leg a week later.
Both games will be screened live on LFCtv. In the middle of the Champions League games the Reds also face Notts County in the Continental Cup semi-final at Select Stadium, Widnes, on Sunday (October 11).
Get behind the Reds. Tickets available for both home games on the gate.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Gibbons, Harris, Bonner, Murray, Pacheco (Hodson), Ryland, Staniforth, Omarsdottir (Oshoala), White, Zelem, Dowie
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Ingrid Ryland
Pic: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo