LIVERPOOL LADIES extended their unbeaten run in the FA Women’s Super League on Saturday evening with a 1-0 win over bottom-placed side Doncaster Rovers Belles.
The plucky Belles have now played nine league games without a win, yet have three games in hand over Sunderland, who sit six points above them – and they play the North East club on Thursday.
The Reds made a blistering start to proceedings in Widnes, the only change to the 11 that featured in the last-minute Cup defeat to Birmingham seeing Emma Lundh coming in for Katie Zelem, the number nine slotting seamlessly into the attacking three alongside Natasha Harding and Shanice Van De Sanden.
Caroline Weir played just ahead of Laura Coombs and Kate Longhurst in the middle, with the latter providing cover for the back line of Satara Murray, Gemma Bonner, Sophie Ingle and Mandy Van Den Berg with Siobhan Chamberlain in goal.
For the opening 45 minutes Liverpool threw everything at the Belles. The first attack was forged when Van Den Berg intercepted a pass, finding Coombs who sprayed the ball wide to Harding.
Harding in turn picked out Weir, who looked to have stumbled and lost the ball yet recovered well to produce an impressive turn on the edge of the box only to fire her cross at goalkeeper Nicola Hobbs.
Hobbs was the star of the first half, twice denying the energetic Van De Sanden — first with her foot after the Dutch winger was set up by Lundh and then bravely off her line to stop Van De Sanden at point blank range.
Liverpool also peppered the Doncaster goal with shots from a series of corners midway through the half; Hobbs tipping an Ingle header over the crossbar, Harding prodding the ball from close range yet seeing it deflected wide and Van De Sanden firing over.
The corners were punctured by a first Doncaster chance of the game, this falling to former Liverpool and two-time title winning midfielder Katrin Omarsdottir, playing up front here for the Belles, who sent a left footed hit wide of the post.
Following this it was back to the other end of the pitch. Liverpool changing tactics on a corner and having Weir and Coombs play a quick one-two for Weir to cut in and shoot narrowly over from the corner of the area.
Before the half time whistle Omarsdottir went closest to breaking the deadlock, Liverpool initially looked to have cleared from the danger only for a sneaky through ball to worm its way back through the Reds defence.
Omarsdottir was quick to pounce yet Chamberlain was quicker to react, diving to push the ball clear and preserve her clean sheet.
With the final move of the half Harding received the ball inside the Doncaster box with her back to goal and closely marked by a defender; she held the ball well to allow for Lundh arriving only for the no.9’s effort to be blocked.
It was barely two minutes into the second half when Liverpool broke the deadlock. Harding found herself in space 20 yards from goal and lifted a perfectly-weighted shot across the face of goal and into the back of the net. The Welsh vice-captain has been a stand out for Liverpool in the second half of the season and the goal capped another good performance.
The Reds had plenty of opportunities to double the advantage, a fierce ball in from the right was parried away by Hobbs and the resulting corner was met by the head of Murray but stopped from crossing the line a yard from goal.
Substitute Katie Zelem was unlucky to watch her set piece float inches wide while Doncaster themselves threatened from a free kick, Leandra Little rising highest to nod the ball into the safe hands of Chamberlain who held it well on the line.
Liverpool’s Murray was kept busy throughout by Omarsdottir on the right, shielding the ball out for a corner early in the second half and winning her battles with the Doncaster number seven.
One of the Reds biggest chances to score a second came when Murray read a Doncaster move superbly to come and steal the ball on the halfway line, the midfielder given no chance and Murray having the time to look up and clip a placed pass into the path of Lundh — her shot blocked by a defender.
Into the final minutes of the game Harding came agonisingly close to converting Zelem’s cross and a Doncaster ball that flashed across the face of goal was again held well by Chamberlain.
Liverpool have now gone seven games unbeaten in the league — keeping an impressive five clean sheets, conceding only twice and scoring 10. The Reds have just four games to play in their 2016 FAWSL campaign and sit a point from fourth spot.
Scott Rogers’ side now go on the road with away ties at Reading, Birmingham and Doncaster, before a final home game against Arsenal on Sunday, November 6.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Chamberlain, Murray, Bonner, Ingle, Van Den Berg, Longhurst, Coombs, Weir, Van De Sanden, Harding, Lundh.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Satara Murray/ Natasha Harding