Liverpool Ladies were defeated 2-0 at the Academy Stadium by Manchester City Women in their final Continental Cup group game; Toni Duggan scoring a first-half penalty before Isabel Christianson doubled the home side’s lead.
The Reds had already qualified for the tournament’s quarter-final stage after beating Sunderland Ladies midweek and Matt Beard used this game to rotate his squad, giving minutes to players who haven’t featured much during the second-half of the season.
There were then 5 changes to the team that beat Sunderland, Lucy Staniforth and Hannah Dale returning to the starting 11 in place of Katrin Omarsdottir and Katie Zelem in midfield, with Becky Easton ahead of the back 4 of Ingrid Ryland, Gemma Bonner, Satara Murray and Mayumi Pacheco – Libby Stout in goal. Natasha Dowie once again led the line supported by Rosie White and Line Smorsgard up front.
Martha Harris and Ashley Hodson joined Omarsdottir and Zelem amongst the substitutes, however Kate Longhurst was not part of the match day squad.
The home side started the game strongly, buoyed by an impressive home crowd of 1,890, with Lucy Bronze making powerful runs forward from right-back linking and overlapping with Joey Johnston. Former Liverpool player Bronze being City’s stand out performer during the early stages, one fiercely struck cross skimming the heads of everyone in the box and another well held by Stout.
For all their possession, City initially couldn’t make it count. A Demi Stokes ball in from the left also trundled safely into the hands of Stout – who also denied Bronze again - and Liverpool almost punished City early on with successive corners.
The first set piece was won by the in-form Dowie, who had dropped out wide to pick the ball up and won a corner after battling with Jennifer Beattie on the byline. White swung the ball in for Dowie to connect but her touch was deflected out for another, Dowie once again coming into contact after an initial clearance from City was sent back in towards goal by Bonner but the strike went wide of the post.
Manchester City took the lead midway through the first-half, Murray dispossessed and Nikita Parris breaking into the 18-yard box. Murray got back to challenge Parris however was deemed to have fouled the forward with the referee awarding a penalty and booking the Reds defender. Toni Duggan stepped up to take the spot kick, converting to put her side ahead despite Stout diving the right way.
Dale and Dowie both seen chances to equalise blocked, Dale’s strike beating Karen Bardsley but taking a deflection from a City defender to go out for a corner and Dowie superbly denied by Bronze after countering and beating both of the centre-backs. The block was to be Bronze’s last contribution of the afternoon as she hurt herself during the process and was replaced by Abbie McManus.
Liverpool themselves were forced into a substitution before half-time, Easton injuring her arm in a collision with Duggan with Omarsdottir taking her place.
Having lost Bronze’s influence, City’s attack faltered as the teams emerged for the second-half and Liverpool re-appeared looking revitalised and pressing higher up the pitch. Dale shot over the crossbar from outside the area, then Dowie was unfortunate to be prevented from turning by Steph Houghton after receiving the ball from White and Pacheco’s cross after patient build-up play was deflected into Bardsley’s arms.
The first City chance of the second-half came as Parris sent a strike wide from a tight angle, Bonner then blocked a low drive out for a corner and the resulting set piece was eventually headed away by White.
With the momentum of the game seemingly on Liverpool’s side, they were unfortunate to concede a second goal – a back pass to Stout slightly under hit with Christianson lurking, the City midfielder closed down Stout and - with the ball flying up in the air - rounded the Reds keeper and nodded the ball over the line from a yard out.
Both Zelem and Hodson took to the pitch in the second-half as Liverpool looked to pull a goal back, Zelem immediately involved in the thick of the action and winning a corner that was ultimately headed away by Jill Scott. Hodson’s introduction also began to cause City problems on the right, her pace troubling Stokes.
Despite the score line Bonner was once more excellent at the back, in the first half stopping Christianson in a sea of shirts at the edge of the box and during the second producing a number of blocks and sliding interceptions to deny City a third.
LIVERPOOL: Stout, Ryland, Bonner ©, Murray, Pacheco, Easton (Omarsdottir), Dale (Zelem), Staniforth, Smorsgard (Hodson), White, Dowie
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Gemma Bonner