Ashley Hodson created history for Liverpool FC Women last weekend when she came off the bench to replace Rianna Dean on 66 minutes. Her introduction against Bristol City at Prenton Park was her 116th appearance in a Liverpool shirt, helping her to surpass the previous record held by another Reds fan favourite, Gemma Bonner.
Swathes of congratulatory messages appeared on social media after the game, with Hodson’s achievement widely applauded and rightly dominating the headlines despite the Reds’ inability to take all three points against the Robins, which goes to show just how widely appreciated she is by everyone associated with the club.
“It feels like time has gone so quickly,” the winger – who unsurprisingly is the longest serving player at the club – told Liverpool’s official YouTube channel for a special video feature released to celebrate her achievement.
In many respects she is not mistaken. It was only 2014 when an 18-year-old Hodson, a prodigious talent who Liverpool had high hopes for, made her debut against Sunderland. Fast forward to 2021, and a 26-year-old Hodson is viewed as an established and reliable winger, integral to the Reds’ push for promotion to the WSL, despite having largely featured off the bench so far this term.
A lot has happened in Hodson’s seven-year spell in the first team, including a league title win, a Champions League debut, a serious injury and relegation. Despite the huge changes which have occurred on and off the pitch in recent years at the club, she has remained a constant throughout.
Hodson joined Liverpool’s development programme during her teenage years and rose through the ranks to the reserves, before current boss Matt Beard drafted her into the first team during his first spell in charge seven years ago.
He gave Hodson her first senior appearance in April 2014, as she started in a 2-0 win over Sunderland in the fifth round of the FA Women’s Cup. Her league debut would follow a week later, a 0-0 draw with Chelsea, and the 18-year-old would make nine further appearances in all competitions that season as Liverpool retained the WSL title in dramatic fashion on the final day – not a bad first season in senior football for the Preston-born winger.
As her minutes increased, Hodson began to tick off numerous milestones. Her first goal for the Reds arrived in a 3-0 win against Doncaster in the FA WSL Cup in July 2015, with her Champions League bow following in October of that year during a 1-0 defeat to Brescia.
The Reds were unable to make it three title wins on the bounce that season however, as they slumped to a seventh-placed finish in the WSL.
She became a key member of the squad in 2017, starting every league and cup game, with her performances rewarded with a new contract at the end of that year, as she continued to rack up appearance after appearance.
Her 50th for the Reds on the opening day of the 2017/18 season was a memorable one, as Liverpool toasted Merseyside derby day success, beating Everton 2-0. She would make 20 further appearances for the Reds that season, before injury cruelly struck in May 2018.
Hodson tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her knee after falling awkwardly in training, practically making the 2018/19 season a complete write-off. Indeed, Hodson would not be seen donning a red shirt until February 2019 after a long and intense recovery period.
It was a huge blow with the winger having established herself as a regular in the Reds’ line-up at the time it occurred, at the tender age of 23. It is likely she would have been much closer to the 200-appearance mark for the Reds if she hadn’t sustained such a serious injury which would end up robbing her of close to a year of her playing career.
It is no coincidence that Liverpool’s form really nosedived in Hodson’s absence, with the Reds finishing eighth. In a division which, at the time, only featured 11 teams, they won just seven of their 20 games.
Hodson would feature at the tail end of that campaign, marking her return to the side with a goal in a 6-0 drubbing of MK Dons in the FA Women’’s Cup and then netting in the league in a 5-2 win over Bristol City a month later.
Although she has suffered a few slight niggles in the intervening period, she has so far managed to steer clear of another serious injury, which can largely be attributed to her remarkable recovery from the ACL tear.Embed from Getty Images
The 2019/20 season, by Hodson’s own admission was her toughest at the club, as Liverpool were relegated on a points-per-game basis after the campaign was curtailed due to the pandemic. It was a season to forget results-wise, but still a bitter pill to swallow suffering relegation despite having games in hand to play over their direct rivals.
It was a sign of Hodson’s commitment to the club she loves that she opted to stay for the season in the Championship, despite plenty of other players moving onwards to stay in the WSL. That has only been emphasised by her decision to sign a new contract in the summer just gone, despite the Reds still playing in the second tier having finished third last season.
The Reds were keen to extend Hodson’s stay on Merseyside, having recognised that she was a key player for Amber Whiteley when she assumed the reigns as interim manager in February last year. Hodson sacrificed herself for the good of the team by playing at full-back as well as her preferred wide attacking position, helping the Reds to go unbeaten in their last six league games of the season.
She is quick, dynamic and direct, as well as being able to supply quality final balls into the box. All stellar attributes that an out and out winger should possess.
Although she hasn’t nailed down a starting berth thus far in Matt Beard’s new look Liverpool style, there is no doubt that she will eventually force her way into the side. For now, she is a great option to have off the bench as an impact sub when the Reds are attempting to break down teams.
Her wealth of experience, commitment and talent also make her a role model for many in Liverpool’s young squad, with the likes of Kearns and Wardlaw benefitting greatly from training with such a consummate professional each day.
With Hodson having just signed a new contract, and barring another serious injury, it is likely she will rack up a serious number of appearances for the Reds, a remarkable achievement considering the short-term nature of contracts in women’s football and the mass turnover of players year upon year.
Hodson stated that winning the league this season would rank as one of her, “proudest achievements” in her Liverpool career and it would be a fitting way to celebrate her undeniable loyalty and commitment to her childhood club.
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