NATASHA Harding shone in a leading role for Liverpool Ladies in Widnes on Friday night. The Welsh international had a hand in every goal as the Reds defeated Reading Women 4-2.
Harding first had the ball in the back of the net after only 66 seconds, only for Reading to score twice in quick succession through Brooke Chaplen and Melissa Fletcher to put the Berkshire side ahead.
Midway through the first half Harding netted her second to level proceedings, then played the pass that allowed Alex Greenwood to set up Caroline Weir and her second half cross was converted by Laura Coombs.
With three goals in the opening 10 minutes, both sides struggled to control the game.
The ever-improving Greenwood, looking stronger every game, spurned a Reading attack to move the ball up the field towards Niamh Charles. The young forward, who has also recently returned from injury, initially lost the ball but quickly won it back to play in Harding.
Harding carried the ball forward and curled a fine finish in off the far post to make it 1-0 to Liverpool. The lead was to be short-lived, however, and former Everton and Sunderland midfielder Brooke Chaplen — who loves a goal against Liverpool — struck an effort from range that thwarted Reds number one Siobhan Chamberlain.
Back on level terms with just over three minutes on the clock, Reading’s Rebecca Jane attempted to cross the ball towards the waiting Fletcher. Sophie Ingle read the danger well and was quickly out to intercept. The ball went out for a corner which Chaplen caught on the volley yet Ingle once more was able to clear.
Undeterred, Reading went back in again, a cross in from the left this time only half cleared by the Reds defence and Fletcher volleying the ball home.
Suddenly behind after a quick turnaround Liverpool began to show more promise going forward. Harding, with her back to goal, tapped the ball to Coombs who in turn sprayed it wide to Charles on the left wing — her cross caught by Earps.
Then Reds captain Gemma Bonner took a free kick from inside the Liverpool half that was flicked on by Harding, yet Earps was off her line to grab the ball before Shanice Van De Sanden could pounce.
As the game began to settle Chamberlain did well to hold onto Rachel Furness’ hit from distance, while at the other end Charles was denied her first goal for the club by Kirsty McGee.
Midway through the half Harding struck again following brilliant build-up play, Hodson shrugging off a challenge over on the right to get the ball across to her full-back counterpart Greenwood before Charles again played through Harding who bagged the equaliser.
Harding was flying and Liverpool were beginning to impress. A smart move started by Coombs led to Harding and Greenwood exchanging passes, Greenwood racing to the by-line and putting the ball on a plate for Caroline Weir to re-establish the Reds’ lead.
Liverpool took a 3-2 lead in at the break despite Reading piling on the pressure searching for another equaliser. Last weekend’s super sub Katie Zelem, the only change in the line-up replacing Kate Longhurst, blocking a Remi Allen strike and Weir also back in defence to win the ball back in the 18-yard box.
Reading came out fighting again in the second half, Furness sending a free kick wide.
Harding was at the heart of everything, playing her best game yet in a Liverpool shirt and should really have had a penalty awarded after being pulled down in the Reading box — the referee waving away her claims.
The Wales vice-captain wasn’t put off however and a minute later displayed lightning pace to cut past the Reading centre-half, squaring the ball to Coombs who made no mistakes from a yard out.
From here Liverpool really were in control and cruising, the trio of Charles, Greenwood and Harding linking up as Harding tried to find Weir with a nifty back hell that was intercepted by the defence.
Earps would also deny Harding her hat-trick, out to intercept Weir’s intended pass, while Chamberlain twice stopped Reading getting back into the game — superbly saving a Fletcher strike after the ball had ricocheted around the area and also holding substitute Charlie Estcourt’s effort from distance.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Chamberlain, Hodson, Bonner, Ingle, Greenwood, Zelem, Coombs, Weir, Van De Sanden (Longhurst), Charles (Johnson), Harding
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Natasha Harding
It was a convincing win in the end for Scott Rogers’ Liverpool Ladies side, who are the early pace-setters in the FAWSL Spring Series. The Reds are back in action on Thursday night away to Arsenal Ladies in a 7:30pm kick-off at The Hive.