Liverpool FC Women have moved to within a point to Durham in second, after Sunday’s narrow victory in their penultimate league game against Sheffield United at the Technique Stadium.
The result saw the Reds leapfrog the Blades, opening up a three-point gap over them and ending Neil Redfearn’s side recent unbeaten run. More importantly, Liverpool were able to capitalise on Durham’s surprise defeat to Charlton to move to within a point of the Wildcats ahead of the last game of the season next weekend.
Amalie Thestrup’s fourth league goal of the campaign in the first half proved to be the difference between the sides in a dramatic game which had three penalty misses and a sending off for two bookable offences for birthday girl Taylor Hinds.
Amber Whiteley made two alterations to the starting line up from last weekend’s disappointing FA Cup exit, with Rylee Foster coming in between the sticks for Rachel Laws, whilst Jade Bailey, who was left out of the squad completely, presumably through injury, made way for captain Niamh Fahey.
That left the Reds with a threadbare bench, which featured just four substitutes, including Ceri Holland for the second successive game. Redfearn, meanwhile, named an unchanged lineup for the eighth game running.
Liverpool started the game brightly, with Kirsty Linnett having a chance to open the scoring just two minutes into the game. Her effort from inside the box was palmed away by Fran Kitching, with Thestrup unable to get any real power behind her shot on the rebound, as the Sheffield United ‘keeper denied the Dane.
They continued to press forward, encouraged by that early opportunity, with Missy Bo Kearns releasing Thestrup on the right, but Kitching got down well to smother her teasing delivery before Linnett or Lawley could get on the end of it.
Despite their early promise it was the Blades who came closest to scoring first, from the penalty spot. Leighanne Robe, who was starting her second consecutive game, clattered into former Liverpool star Courtney Sweetman-Kirk in the area, and the referee had no choice but to award the spot kick. Championship top scorer Katie Wilkinson stepped up, but saw her effort clip the post and go out of play, to spare Robe’s blushes.
That seemed to be the wake up call Liverpool needed, and they broke the deadlock on the half-hour mark after a free flowing move. It started in their own half as Hinds fed Fahey before she gave the ball wide to Lawley. She played a neat give-and-go with Rodgers, before driving down the left after receiving the return pass. She then slipped the ball into Linnett who had made a darting run.
Her initial effort was saved by Kitching before the ball bobbled into the path of Thestrup who had the simplest of tap ins from close range to net her first goal for Liverpool since the beginning of December.
They had a chance to double their lead on 65 minutes when Rodgers was bundled over in the box by Hartley and the referee pointed to the spot. Linnett stepped up, but her weak penalty was saved by Kitching, who ensured the deficit remained just one goal.
Further drama was to follow when a third and final penalty was awarded in stoppage time. Substitute Jade Pennock had hoisted in a dangerous cross which bounced off Hinds arm and away from the onrushing Melissa Johnson, who looked set to turn home a late equaliser.Embed from Getty Images
Hinds, who had been booked minutes earlier for time wasting, received her marching orders, with Pennock stepping up to take the kick. Foster guessed the right way and pushed away the Blades forward’s effort, before bravely denying Johnson on the follow up.
The Canadian stopper received a blow to the head when diving to stop Johnson and, after lengthily treatment was stretchered off with Laws coming on to replace her and see out the win of the Reds. Foster took to social media after the game to thank fans for their well wishes and assure them she was well, but it remains to be seen whether she will be available for the last league game against London City.
The Reds hung on for a huge victory, which took their undefeated streak in the league to seven games and will give them huge confidence going into their final fixture, that they can secure second place. Liverpool have kept five clean sheets during that run, and were indebted to Foster for preserving the victory yesterday, as she pulled off some great saves and seems well placed to challenge Laws to become the Reds’ undisputed No.1 next campaign.
Rodgers and Lawley were also impressive alongside Thestrup, who will have been relieved to break her goal drought this calendar year, in what has been a challenging first campaign in England. She certainly looked comfortable on the right wing, coming inside and linking well with Linnett and Kearns.
Amber Whiteley should be commended for the incredible work she has done to steady the ship and turn Liverpool’s fortunes around since January and she will be hoping to end the season on a high with victory next Sunday at Prenton Park.
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