LIVERPOOL Ladies progressed to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup on Sunday afternoon, defeating Everton Ladies 2-1 after extra time.
Tash Harding put Liverpool ahead after just eight minutes with Simone Magill levelling for the visitors in the second half, Shanice van de Sanden then headed home the winning goal in extra time to send the Reds through to the next round.
Harding and van de Sanden were joined in attack by debutant Ali Johnson, the young forward stepping up from the Development Squad to make her first start.
Caroline Weir, Katie Zelem and Kate Longhurst made up the midfield three with Alex Greenwood, Sophie Ingle, Gemma Bonner and Ashley Hodson in defence – Siobhan Chamberlain in goal.
Harding’s opener was Liverpool’s first chance at goal and came just a minute after Everton’s Claudia Walker had headed a set-piece over the crossbar at the other end, Weir had drifted out to the left wing and curled a low cross towards Harding at the near post who clipped the ball past Kirstie Levell.
Liverpool were passing the ball well with short, sharp passes, Johnson and Weir linking on the left as Weir almost found Harding again and a sweeping move across the pitch involving Zelem, Weir and van de Sanden ending in a corner for the Reds – one that seen Bonner’s header land in the arms of Levell.
On the 30-minute mark it was Johnson who came closest to doubling the Reds advantage, skipping past an Everton player and curling a left-footed effort towards the top corner, forcing Levell to stretch and push the ball around the post.
Everton were also pushing for an equaliser, captain Michelle Hinnigan firing over the crossbar after a driving run in midfield and a Danielle Turner cross ricocheting off Hodson to earn the Blues a corner that was claimed by Chamberlain.
Shortly before being substituted for Mollie Green, Harding went for her second of the game from 25-yards; a fierce hit that took a deflection from centre-back Gabby George, enabling it to be gathered by Levell.
There continued to be chances at each end of the pitch, Weir’s corner headed on by Bonner to Longhurst only for her header to be cleared off the line and Chamberlain denying former Reds forward Walker at point-blank range.
Chamberlain was also forced into action again to save from Blues number 10 Magill after Danielle Turner’s cross reached the Northern Irish international, however the Reds stopper couldn’t keep Magill out all afternoon and the forward levelled the score with 20 minutes to play.
Liverpool pressed for a winner as the final whistle loomed, Johnson’s shot saved by Levell, Greenwood heading Weir’s corner inches wide and Zelem’s ferocious strike from 40-yards bouncing back off the post and across the face of goal.
Johnson shone in the second half, at one point battling her way through two Blues on the left wing to nudge the ball forward to Van de Sanden; the number 11 whipping a low pass towards Zelem arriving at the edge of the box but the midfielder unable to control.
Another player who stood out across the 90 minutes was Longhurst in the holding midfield role, arguably the perfect player in a game like this. Longhurst’s grit and determination to hold the fort ahead of the backline was impressive, intercepting passes and challenging for the ball; the midfielder also picked up the first yellow card of the afternoon for bring down Everton substitute Emily Hollinshead.
With neither side able to find a winner within the 90 minutes, extra time followed with each side continuing to test the other.
Bonner’s last minute sliding tackle doing enough to prevent Walker taking a shot while Longhurst dropped back deep in defence to intercept a pass from Magill.
Liverpool found the breakthrough in the 108th minute as Johnson’s inch-perfect cross met van de Sanden, the Dutch winger heading past Levell and to send the Reds back in front.
The Blues responded yet a resilient Liverpool batted everything away – scrambling away a corner with Hodson out to clear any remaining danger, Greenwood and Johnson to get the ball away on another attack and Bonner twice blocking shots from Walker.
That victory means the Reds will face Notts County Ladies in the quarter-final on Sunday March 26.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Chamberlain, Hodson, Bonner (c), Ingle, Greenwood, Longhurst, Zelem, Weir, Johnson, van de Sanden, Harding (Green)
UNUSED SUBS: Gibbons, Taylor, Rodgers, Fletcher
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Kate Longhurst