Liverpool FC Women travel to London to take on Crystal Palace tomorrow in the FA Championship, aiming to make it two wins on the bounce to boost their slim hopes of securing a return to the WSL at the first time of asking.
They ran out comfortable winners against London Bees in their last encounter, thanks to goals from Becky Jane, Ceri Holland and Amy Rodgers as well a number of eye-catching individual displays across the board and Amber Whiteley will be hoping for a similar performance this weekend.
The Reds know a win over the Eagles would move them level on points with third-placed Sheffield United and seven points behind Durham, having played a game less than both those clubs, with Liverpool’s rearranged fixture against Coventry City set to take place next Sunday.
All focus must first be on this weekend’s game however, which will provide another stern test against a side who, like Liverpool, have had a very inconsistent start to 2021. In their five games this year Dean Davenport’s team have won one, drawn two and lost two, with both those defeats coming against Durham and Leicester by a single goal margin on each occasion.
Last time out against the Foxes, the current leaders in the division, they were in the game for large spells and will feel disappointed to have fallen to defeat by a solitary goal.
The loss leaves Palace in eighth place and, with Charlton below them sitting just six points behind with two games in hand, the Eagles will be keen to get three more points on the board to put a comfortable buffer between themselves and the lower half of the table.
Davenport’s side’s sole victory this calendar year was a memorable one, and it came against Liverpool’s opponents last weekend London Bees, who they thrashed 5-0 at Hayes Lane.
The stand-out performers on that day were undoubtedly Bianca Baptiste and Coral Haines, who each bagged a brace. The former, also nabbed two assists and was a constant thorn in the side of the Bees’ defence from the right-hand side and she will definitely be one the Reds will be wary of affording too much time and space to.
The former Arsenal and Tottenham forward has 12 goals in 15 games this season, whilst midfielder Haines who was also previously on the books of Spurs, has five goals in 12 games and has featured in every game for the Eagles since sealing a switch to south London in the summer window.
Davenport has built a strong counter-attacking side and the Reds will need to ensure that previous defensive lapses against Charlton and again on Sunday against London Bees (which went unpunished) are not repeated at Hayes Lane.
Whiteley herself stressed Liverpool need to make the most of their chances when they’re on top and limit opportunities for the opposition.
In her pre-match press conference, she said: “Something that we’ve got to get better at is killing games off when we are on top. There was a 20-minute spell in the second half when the London Bees had the better of us.”
Liverpool will be buoyed by the fact they comfortably dispatched Palace in the last meeting between these two sides at the beginning of December. Rinsola Babajide opened the scoring after just two minutes before Amy Rodgers and Amalie Threstrup further extended their lead. Babajide then put the icing on the cake late in stoppage time with her second of the game.
The win stretched the Reds’ unbeaten run at the time to five games and they will be hoping to go on a similar run now at the business end of the season to enable them finish as high as they can in the table.Embed from Getty Images
It seems that they will once again be unable to call on Babajide, who has been left out of the squad for the past two games and hasn’t been pictured training with her teammates.
Whiteley, after Sunday’s game against London Bees, issued an update on the star forward’s situation, insisting the Reds were keen to integrate her back into the squad – but it feels like we might have already seen her last appearance in a Liverpool shirt with just six games remaining of the campaign.
The Reds performed admirably without her on Sunday and Whiteley has reiterated she has a “selection headache” ahead of the trip to the capital.
The Reds’ bench on Sunday was arguably the strongest it has been all season and Whiteley will be keen to use her squad depth to her advantage to help change the game as she did on Sunday with the triple substitution which was crucial in helping Liverpool take all three points.
Rachel Furness, Melissa Lawley and Amy Rodgers are in contention to start after their impressive cameos on Sunday. The Reds may look to manage Jade Bailey’s minutes after her recent return from a lengthy injury lay-off – she could make way for one of the aforementioned trio for the game at Hayes Lane.
It will also be interesting to see if Whiteley opts to play Becky Jane as a winger again. It proved to be an inspired decision as Jane was a constant menace down the right-hand side against the Bees, and even popped up to score her first goal for the club.
It could be useful to have Jane, who has predominantly featured as a full-back, sitting in front of Rhiannon Roberts to combat the threat of swift counter-attacks from Crystal Palace.
Ceri Holland is surely a nailed-on starter after she netted on her home debut and put in another fine performance in middle of the park. Whiteley was full of praise for the Welsh midfielder who has settled in well on Merseyside since her arrival in January.
There is no simply no room for error for the Reds here. Given how tight it is at the top of the table, it is simply a must-win game for Liverpool, but – whisper it quietly – one which they should be confident of taking all three points from.
Kick off at Hayes Lane is 2pm and you can watch all the action on Liverpool’s YouTube channel.
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