Liverpool FC Women bowed out of the FA Cup in the fourth round after suffering a narrow 2-1 defeat against Leicester at Farley Way on Sunday.
Hannah Cain’s goal with less than 20 minutes remaining was the difference between the sides in a tight encounter with few chances. The Foxes will now take on Manchester United in the fifth round as they eased past Burnley.
Amber Whiteley made six alterations to the starting lineup a fortnight on from Liverpool’s last outing, a 2-0 win over Lewes. Many changes were enforced, given the international exploits of several squad members during the break.
Rachel Furness broke her left tibia during Northern Ireland’s game with Ukraine so was absent for this one, and will miss the remaining two games of the season. Ceri Holland started both of Wales’ fixtures and was surprisingly named on the bench, presumably given she was fatigued, alongside Niamh Fahey who had been away with Ireland.
Missy Bo Kearns was restored to the first XI in place of the injured Furness, whilst Amy Rodgers came in for Ceri Holland to complete the midfield three with Jade Bailey. Leighanne Robe started in defence, playing for the first time since the 2-2 draw with Charlton at the start of February.
Rachel Laws had recovered from the problem which had kept her out of the last two games and so reclaimed her place in goal ahead of Rylee Foster. Mel Lawley and Amalie Threstrup were preferred to Ashley Hodson and Becky Jane on the flanks, as the duo dropped to the bench.
Kirsty Linnett took the armband for the first time, a fitting achievement on her 50th appearance for the club since arriving in 2018 from Reading.
It was a cagey opening to the game in a sunny day in the East Midlands, as Leicester enjoyed the lion’s share of possession without really threatening in the early exchanges. The first sight of goal came on 18 minutes, as danger woman Natasha Flint raced onto a raking diagonal pass from Ashleigh Plumptre, but the returning Laws with quick off her line to deny the striker.
That was an early warning sign for the Reds and Leicester fashioned another opportunity soon after. Flint was again at the heart of it, driving forward before slipping the ball into Cain, whose shot was easily gathered by Laws.
They came closest to opening the scoring just after the hour mark as Sophie Howard came steaming in at the back post to get her head to Charlie Devlin’s cross from the left, with her effort bouncing into the ground and onto the top of the crossbar.
The Reds opted to make once change at the break, with Ceri Holland being introduced in place of Amalie Threstrup, who endured a tough half in Loughborough as she continues to try and acclimatise to the English game.
Linnett carved open a decent opening for herself after the interval, when she turned inside after receiving the ball from a throw in, but her effort was charged down and cleared. The ball then broke to Amy Rodgers on the edge of the area, but she couldn’t get any power behind her strike as it nestled into Kirstie Levell’s arms.Embed from Getty Images
Leicester continued to dominate possession and put real pressure on the Reds’ defence in search of the first goal. Devlin cut inside and unleashed a curling effort, but Laws was again able to smother. The Reds had another scare just after the hour mark as Flint again latched onto a long ball over the top. She was able to lift the ball beyond the onrushing Laws, but couldn’t find the target as the ball landed outside of the far post.
The Foxes eventually made the breakthrough on 72 minutes, and the Reds will be kicking themselves for the manner in which they conceded it. Having been swarmed by several Leicester players in the middle of the pitch Bailey played the ball all the way back to Laws in goal. Under pressure from Flint she played it short to Moore, and received the ball back. She took a heavy touch and was instantly hounded by Flint, who nipped in ahead of the goalkeeper Cain took over, tucking home into an empty net to give Jonathan Morgan’s side something to show for their dominance.
Fahey and Lucy Parry replaced Bailey and Rhiannon Roberts shortly after the goal, with Jane having been introduced in place of Kearns on 60 minutes. For once Whiteley substitutions did not have the desired impact they normally do in swinging the game in Liverpool’s favour.
The Reds pressed higher up the pitch late in the game in their search for an equaliser to take the Foxes to extra time and they frustratingly squandered two big opportunities to do so. With ten minutes to go, Liverpool cleared a Leicester corner and looked to launch a swift break. Taylor Hinds threaded the ball through for Holland, who strode forward at pace. Lawley made a run inside and was in acres of space awaiting a pass, but Holland went alone and a superb last ditch sliding challenge from De Graaf prevented her from advancing into the area.
One final foray forward almost provided the Reds with the goal they craved. Hinds delivered a teasing delivery into the box which Holland inadvertently headed into the path of her young teammate Parry, who had stolen in at the back post. She was foiled by Levell, who got down low to deny the defender from netting her first goal for the club.
The Reds were therefore left disappointed when the full time whistle sounded as one mistake cost them dearly. These are the kinds of lessons this relatively young squad must learn however, if they are to launch a sustained promotion push next year.
They were always the underdogs for this tie, and can take confidence from the fact they contained the league’s most dangerous attack for the majority of the game. The Foxes have set a bench mark for the level of consistency Liverpool must show next season to be battling at the top. That was Leicester’s sixth clean sheet in row and they came into the game having won 12 on the bounce as they romped to the league crown.
Amber Whiteley will welcome the chance to now have a full week’s worth of training ahead of the Reds next game Sheffield United. The match against the Blades will go a long way in determining where Liverpool will finish this season and the squad will be desperate to get back to winning ways and claw back some points in their final two league games to catch Sheffield United and Durham who are in front of them.
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