Liverpool Ladies produced a fine defensive performance away at FA Women’s Super League leaders Chelsea Ladies on Saturday afternoon. Norwegian international Maren Mjelde’s first half strike the difference between the two sides as the Reds fell to a narrow 1-0 defeat.
Scott Rogers side had suffered a tough 3-0 defeat last week at home to Reading and were looking to make amends here, Kate Longhurst in to bolster the midfield and Jess Clarke leading the line up front.
Sophie Ingle sat in front of an unchanged back five of Satara Murray, Gemma Bonner, Casey Stoney, Alex Greenwood and Siobhan Chamberlain in goal; while Natasha Harding and Niamh Charles went on either side of Longhurst and Laura Coombs in midfield.
In contrast to last week’s performance Liverpool started the tie brightly, Ji So-Yun flashed the first chance of the tie wide of the mark for the hosts yet it was Longhurst who sparked the game into life. A trademark, biting challenge winning the ball back for the Reds and allowing Ingle to plough a pass up the field towards Clarke.
Clarke was marked by Millie Bright throughout yet almost slipped past her here, turning and looking to fire an effort at goal that was closed down at the edge of the box.
Reds captain Bonner was also a stand out during the 90 minutes, blocking shots and passes here, there and everywhere. In only the fourth minute of the game closing down Carney’s strike and then four minutes from time out again to twice deny the Blues.
Chelsea took the lead almost against the run of play, Liverpool had certainly enjoyed possession and Coombs’ set piece narrowly missing the head of Ingle – Bonner’s ball back in intercepted - and Harding narrowly flagged offside after Greenwood’s probing cross.
Norwegian international Mjelde produced an excellent finish from the edge of the area to open the scoring, although it came minutes after a dubious refereeing decision as the referee deemed that Clarke had brought down Gilly Flaherty.
The hosts had chances to double their lead yet were spurned at each turn by the fierce Liverpool defence; Charles nicking the ball out from under the feet of Flaherty and Ingle heading away the resulting corner, Bonner blocking Erin Cuthbert’s shot and Greenwood heading the rebound out and a crunching last-ditch tackle from Bonner preventing Carney from finding the net herself.
Before the first half drew to a close a fizzing free kick from Greenwood almost wormed its way in at the far post, an inch wide and Bonner arriving a second too late to tap the ball over the line.
Chances for either side were few and far between in the second half and Clarke had perhaps the most clear-cut opportunity for Liverpool; Ingle had come into possession just inside the Reds half and flashed it quickly up the pitch for Clarke to run in behind the defence, giving chase the no.9 went through on goal yet took a heavy first touch and then could only watch as Blues ‘keeper Becky Spencer gathered up the ball.
Both sides made substitutions with Rogers bringing on Ashley Hodson and Caroline Weir, looking to snatch an equaliser while Chelsea boss Emma Hayes looked to attacking trio Fran Kirby, Eni Aluko and Drew Spence.
Spence was twice frustrated by Murray who strongly held off the forward to shield the ball out for a Liverpool goal kick and then heading away Millie Bright’s cross before she could connect with it.
The Blues also had a series of corners, each expertly defended by Liverpool and Chamberlain produced a number of excellent saves – punching away a strike by Mjelde and denying the hosts a second in added time at the end of the game.
For those supporters disheartened by the showing against Reading, this was the Reds showing that that performance was merely a bad day at the office and that they can go shoulder-to-shoulder and match the best teams in this league.
Chelsea’s strength in depth was today matched by Liverpool’s heart and fight, a performance that all can be proud of and one that can kick start the season – which continues this coming Wednesday with a home Continental Cup tie against WSL2’s Sheffield United at Widnes.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Chamberlain, Murray, Bonner ©, Stoney, Greenwood, Ingle, Longhurst, Coombs, Charles (Hodson), Harding, Clarke (Weir)
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Alex Greenwood