LIVERPOOL Ladies produced an exemplary performance on Wednesday night as they defeated Sunderland Ladies by four goals to nil.
The visiting Black Cats hadn’t conceded in each of their three previous Spring Series games, yet Caroline Weir scored an audacious strike within the opening 10 minutes to break their impressive record.
Tash Harding then scored her sixth goal of the year to double the Reds’ lead, Weir added another in the second half and Casey Stoney tapped home from a corner to round off the scoring.
Reds boss Scott Rogers had named an unchanged 11 to the side that beat Birmingham at St. Andrews, with new signing from Notts County Amy Turner not yet listed among the match day squad.
Alex Greenwood has been in outstanding form within a team high on confidence, her attacking flair on the left wing providing the Reds with plenty of opportunities going forward and no less than five assists in three games prior to this tie.
It was Greenwood playing high up the pitch and getting in among the Sunderland defence that was causing problems in the early stages of the game — Weir spotting the run of the left-back parallel to the 18-yard box and looking to slip her through.
On this occasion Greenwood was stopped at the edge of the area, yet a cross put in two minutes later bounced around the box before Jess Clarke caught the ball on the volley and her shot sailed over the crossbar.
The way Rogers has set his team up this season allows a certain amount of freedom up front for the trio of Harding, Niamh Charles and Clarke with Weir pulling the strings behind them. Sophie Ingle and Laura Coombs providing the foil ahead of the defence.
A lovely touch on the outside of her boot allowed Weir to evade a crowd of Sunderland players and find Charles. The young forward carried the ball up the pitch, picking out the run of Coombs from midfield. Coombs’ shot rebounded to Clarke and the Black Cats goalkeeper Anke Preuss saved.
Sunderland were hardly getting a sniff of the ball when Weir opened the scoring, picking the ball up on the halfway line, racing forward and taking one look up before curling one of the goals of the season past Preuss with her left foot.
The Black Cats looked for an immediate reaction however were spurned at every turn, Siobhan Chamberlain punching away Beverly Leon’s shot and Ashley Hodson preventing Abbey Joice connecting with a through ball.
Instead it looked Liverpool most likely to score the second; Weir deftly flicking Harding’s cross towards Clarke, Greenwood seeing a cross land in the arms of Preuss, and also watching a stinging effort rebound off the ‘keeper to the feet of Clarke. Pruess recovering well to deny Clarke at point-blank range.
Just over 10 minutes later and the Reds had the ball back in the net, a sixth assist of the season for Greenwood who slipped through Harding. Harding in turn slotting the ball low under Preuss to register her sixth goal of the campaign.
The confidence in this Liverpool side has never been more apparent than the following 20 minutes that led up to half-time. The passing, the runs, the staunch backline. Looking dangerous every time they headed forward, Sunderland were barely able to get a handle on the game.
Clarke went looking for her second in a red shirt, first with a curling effort and then rising to meet Hodson’s impressive cross from deep.
While Clarke was gunning for her second, Casey Stoney was unlucky not to have her first. Her header from a Greenwood corner an inch over the crossbar.
A lightning fast run from Harding on the left wing led the forward to the byline, from where she attempted to cut the ball back to Charles only for Victoria Williams to beat her to the ball.
Then Weir weaved her way past a couple of Sunderland shirts before hitting a second strike from outside the area — Preuss wise to this effort and collecting the ball.
At the end of the first half it was Liverpool that came under pressure at the back — shortly after Gemma Bonner went close to scoring at the other end — the Reds captain led her backline as they pushed everything away. Chamberlain producing a strong punch, allowing Liverpool to get out of their half and the referee to blow the whistle for the break.
The Black Cats made one change at the break, Stephanie Roche on for Joice — a substitution that seemed to give the visitors a bit more of a threat going forward. At the beginning of the second half, Madelaine Hill seen a shot bounce off the outside of the post and Chamberlain pushed former Red Lucy Staniforth’s effort out for a corner.
Still, though, it looked like Liverpool would be more likely to extend their lead rather than concede.
Weir’s fierce hit landed to the wrong side of the post after the number 10 was teed up by Charles and a quick Reds counter — after Chamberlain had again denied Staniforth — seen Clarke denied at the near post.
Ten minutes into the second half Rogers made his first substitution as Ali Johnson came on for Charles. The change immediately producing a goal as Johnson hooked Bonner’s looping cross into the path of Weir who made no mistake from six yards out.
Liverpool were 3-0 up and cruising, able to take their foot off the pedal a little while still showing attacking threat — a great save from Preuss stopping Bonner from scoring her fourth goal in five games and Johnson turning in the middle to play through Greenwood, her shot-cross going over the bar.
The Reds made two further changes in the second half, Kate Longhurst on for goal scorer Harding and Ellie Fletcher making her first team debut in place of Weir.
Fletcher has had an impressive first year with the Reds’ Development Squad, captaining the side as they close in on the league title — needing just a point against Durham on Sunday to confirm the honours.
There was time for one more goal as the game entered it’s final stages — four the apparent lucky number for the Reds who have now scored four in four of their five Spring Series games — Stoney tapping home a Greenwood corner (her seventh assist) at the far post.
Liverpool did almost make it five for the first time when Ingle’s header was met with an impressive save from Preuss, the Reds Player of the Year denied and the game ending 4-0.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Chamberlain, Hodson, Bonner (C), Stoney, Greenwood, Ingle, Coombs, Weir (Fletcher), Charles (Johnson), Clarke, Harding (Longhurst)
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Caroline Weir