LIVERPOOL Ladies were defeated 1-0 at Manchester City in the semi-finals of the Women’s FA Cup on Monday afternoon.
The Reds had defended superbly yet were undone by Melissa Lawley’s 57th-minute strike, which proved to be the difference between the sides.
Last week the Reds had announced two new signings — forward Jess Clarke arriving from Notts County, and Laura Coombs returning on a permanent deal after spending last season on loan from Chelsea. Unfortunately, despite neither player being cup-tied, because they were not registered before the quarter-final both were unable to feature and had to watch from the stands.
With PFA Player of the Year nominee Caroline Weir also unable to play the full 90, Niamh Charles made her first appearance of the year alongside Shanice Van de Sanden and Natasha Harding in attack.
Defensively, the Reds were unchanged from the previous round win over Notts County, Siobhan Chamberlain behind the back four of Ashley Hodson, Gemma Bonner, Casey Stoney and Alex Greenwood. In the middle of the park, Katie Zelem returned to the starting line-up alongside Kate Longhurst and Sophie Ingle.
Both sides came close to scoring in the opening five minutes — Carli Lloyd attempted to thread a ball towards Lawley only for Hodson’s sliding interception to kick start a Liverpool counter attack. Longhurst carried the ball out wide but her cross bounced back off the post.
Lawley was at the centre of every City attack and tested Chamberlain early in the game — a trademark run and cut back from Lucy Bronze finding the former Birmingham forward in the middle of the box only for the Reds stopper to get down to block the low shot.
The Reds defence came under heavy fire during the first half, Bonner producing a well-timed challenge to prevent USA captain Lloyd from finding a teammate and getting an important touch to deflect Lucy Bronze’s effort wide.
City also threatened on the counter attack, Van de Sanden had earned Liverpool a corner that was cleared by Steph Houghton. Lawley picked up the ball and turned to race towards the Reds goal however was thwarted by another Hodson interception.
For Liverpool it was Zelem who went closest during the first half, the midfielder finishing a great team move with a shot on target that was blocked by Houghton.
Shortly before half-time City were forced to scramble the ball away, again from Zelem and this time after keeper Karen Bardsley was unable to hold onto Zelem’s free kick. From the throw-in, Natasha Harding found the feet of Stoney who was unable to convert.
City continued to pile on the pressure as the teams came back out for the second half, Chamberlain saving Jane Ross’ low drive in the 47th minute, Bronze firing over the crossbar and Lawley heading wide.
It was during this period that City took the lead, Lawley curling a shot into the bottom corner from outside the box.
Lloyd went close to doubling the lead five minutes later, a fine reaction save from Chamberlain pushing her shot away, and was again denied by a great challenge from Ingle.
As Liverpool searched for an equaliser manager Scott Rogers made a double substitution, Weir and Ali Johnson coming from the bench to replace Zelem and Charles.
During the final 10 minutes Johnson was unable to get on the end of a Van de Sanden cross, Greenwood tried her luck from distance only to see her strike fly over the crossbar and Bardsley beat Harding to a promising ball into the box from Weir.
In injury-time Weir almost made it 1-1, a searing effort from outside the box however caught by Bardsley and the Reds went out of the cup at the semi-final stage.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Chamberlain, Hodson, Bonner, Stoney, Greenwood, Ingle, Longhurst, Zelem (Weir 70), Charles (Johnson 70), Harding, van de Sanden.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Gemma Bonner