LIVERPOOL Ladies continued their recent run of good form at St. Andrew’s on Sunday afternoon, beating FA Women’s Cup finalists Birmingham City 2-0.
Both goals came during the second half; Jess Clarke scoring her first goal for the club on her first start, and Gemma Bonner netting her third goal in four games to seal the win nine minutes from time.
Clarke was the only change to the line-up from Thursday’s high-scoring draw at Arsenal Ladies, the number nine joining Caroline Weir and Niamh Charles behind Tash Harding in attack.
Laura Coombs partnered Sophie Ingle in central midfield ahead of the back four of Ashley Hodson, Bonner, Casey Stoney and Alex Greenwood; with Siobhan Chamberlain in goal.
Each side came into this tie unbeaten so far in the Spring Series and despite both looking to extend that run, Birmingham perhaps had one eye on next weekend’s cup final – new manager Marc Skinner making five changes to the side that drew at Manchester City.
Freda Ayisi and Andrine Hegerberg each tested the Reds’ defence in the opening five minutes; Ayisi twisting and turning yet ultimately unable to find a way past Ingle, and Chamberlain pushing Hegerberg’s attempt around the post.
Bonner was also on hand twice in the game’s early stages. The Reds captain’s clearance from Ellie Brazil landed at the feet of Sarah Mayling and the former Aston Villa midfielder saw her effort blocked by Bonner.
At the opposite end of the pitch Harding has been a constant threat so far in 2017 for Liverpool Ladies, a central figure in attack. Here again it was Harding forcing the attack, skipping through and forcing Ann-Katrin Berger into a save that landed at the feet of Clarke. Clarke looked up and attempted to find Charles who had cut in from the left wing only for Berger to intercept.
Charles was making her fifth start in a row since coming back from injury and once more was linking well with Greenwood out on the left. The two were excellent going forward in last week’s 4-4 draw at Arsenal and were again showing promise here, Greenwood’s cross in the seventh minute skimming the head of the former under-17 captain.
Liverpool have also been threatening from set-pieces and, after Charles a free-kick, Weir’s strike was on target, yet saved by German ‘keeper Berger.
Weir was involved further as the half went on, hitting the post after latching onto a cross from Greenwood and almost exploiting impressive play by her team-mates Clarke and Harding, who had exchanged passes on the right, however she was a yard ahead of the final ball.
Each side continued to push the other, Paige Williams – back from a spell in the Italian league – having a shot blocked by Hodson and Brazil rattling the crossbar with a hit from distance.
Weir went close twice more before the whistle went for half-time, again put through by Clarke and carrying the ball forward a couple of yards, unleashing a strike with her left foot that was deflected wide. The Scottish international then chased Ingle’s through ball into the area yet was closed down by several City defenders.
Although each side had had their chances, it was the Reds who would turn them into goals; Clarke heading in Greenwood’s cross only three minutes into the second half – and moments after the hosts had been forced into their second change of the afternoon, Ellen White replacing the injured Hegerberg while Jess Carter had also come on for Marisa Ewers.
Liverpool boss Scott Rogers made a substitution of his own shortly later, Katie Zelem coming from the bench in place of Weir. The midfielder was deployed further forward than her cameo against Arsenal and struck the post five minutes after taking to the field.
The Blues fought back, Ayisi hitting the crossbar – not one but twice! While Chamberlain produced a superb stop to deny White at point-blank range and Hodson obstructed Carter’s cross from meeting its intended target.
With just over 15 minutes to play, Shanice Van De Sanden came on for goal scorer Clarke, almost setting fellow sub Zelem with her first meaningful touch of the ball – Zelem’s strike taking a deflection to land in the arms of Berger.
The win was sealed for Liverpool by Bonner, who once again benefitted from a Greenwood set-piece that was expertly flicked on by Kate Longhurst (on for Stoney). The Reds skipper had nicked a point midweek at Arsenal converting a Greenwood corner, and confirmed three points here at St Andrew’s, smashing the ball into the back of the net from close range.
Liverpool are now midway through their Spring Series campaign, having won three, drawn one and scored 14 goals so far.
They next face Sunderland Ladies at the Select Security Stadium in Widnes on Wednesday, May 17 at 7pm. Entry is free to all LFC members and season tickets holders or alternatively, tickets are available on the turnstiles for £6.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Chamberlain, Hodson, Bonner (c), Stoney (Longhurst), Greenwood, Ingle, Coombs, Charles, Weir (Zelem), Clarke (Van De Sanden), Harding
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Niamh Charles