INJURY-HIT Liverpool Ladies crashed out of the Continental Cup at the semi-final stage as two first-half goals from Ellen White sealed progress for Notts County.
Liverpool’s bad luck with injuries has been relentless this season and Gemma Bonner, Martha Harris and Asisat Oshoala joined Libby Stout, Line Smorsgard, Becky Easton, Corina Schroder and Kate Longhurst on the sidelines. One positive was that Fara Williams made a welcome return from a three-month lay-off during the closing stages.
Due to the string of absentees, the Reds fielded a young side with Shannon Beckwith making her first start alongside Satara Murray, Ingrid Ryland and Maz Pacheco in defence with Danielle Gibbons keeping her place in goal.
Hannah Dale also came into the side but Liverpool were otherwise unchanged with Natasha Dowie up front with Rosie White and Ashley Hodson in support with Katrin Omarsdottir and Katie Zelem in midfield.
Liverpool had the first chance of the game and were denied only by the woodwork; the ball had been played out from the back initially as Beckwith intercepted a through ball and this allowed White and Dowie to break with the former teeing up the latter. Dowie’s shot was deflected wide before White’s corner crashed off the crossbar and Murray could only head over the rebound.
County took the lead after just five minutes, the referee gave a handball against Ryland and County’s White headed former Everton defender Alex Greenwood’s set piece across the line.
Notts County are renowned for tricky set pieces — a free kick against Arsenal earlier in the season saw White score after what had appeared to be confusion between several players which was merely a ruse. Here, they tried a sneaky move again but Omarsdottir was wise to Greenwood lurking away from the dead ball and blocked her strike.
Liverpool were pressing well, particularly in the midfield with Dale buzzing everywhere, snapping at the heels of the Notts players and generally getting herself into good positions Another corner taken by Rosie White had fallen to the young midfielder in space outside of the box and she found Murray whose header towards goal was blocked.
Another Liverpool attack came to nothing before Ellen White grabbed her second, tucking home Dani Buet’s cross from the right.
The best chance for Liverpool to pull a goal back came minutes before half-time as Pacheco made a powerful charge forward, her cross was chested to Rosie White by Omarsdottir but the New Zealand international’s low drive went the wrong side of the post.
In the middle of the pitch Zelem gave an eye-catching performance, one driving run just before half-time seen her go all the way to the edge of the 18-yard box yet here she was quickly closed down and couldn’t get a shot in.
Zelem also shot wide from 30 yards shortly into the second half before setting Hodson up with a defence-splitting pass and then putting through Dowie — the No.9 going through on goal, battling all the way with Laura Bassett and seeing her strike stopped by Carly Telford, although a foul had been given against the striker.
Liverpool made a trio of substitutions in midfield area as the half wore on with Staniforth on for Dale, Mollie Green making her first-team debut replacing White and Williams, making her first appearance since picking up a hamstring injury in the league defeat against County in July, coming in for the impressive Zelem.
It just wasn’t to be for the Reds on the night, Dowie unable to reach Beckwith’s long ball over the top and Hodson seeing the ball headed away before she could reach Pacheco’s cross inside the box, while up at the other end Ellen White was denied her hat -rick by the linesman and Jess Clarke put a tap-in wide.
Liverpool face Brescia CF in their second leg Champions League Round of 32 tie this Wednesday (October 14), looking to overcome a 1-0 deficit from the first leg in Italy last week.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Gibbons, Ryland, Beckwith, Murray, Pacheco, Dale (Staniforth 60), Ormarsdottir, Zelem (Williams 81), Hodson, Dowie, White (Green 72).
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Katie Zelem