Reds upset WSL side Aston Villa in Conti Cup penalty shootout success

Liverpool FC Women correspondent Lauren McCann reports as the Reds got the better of their higher division opponents on penalties.

Liverpool FC Women got their Continental Cup campaign off to a good start as they defeated WSL side Aston Villa 5-4 on penalties to pick up a bonus point in the competition after the game ended 1-1 after normal time.

Shania Hayles had given the visitors the lead after only two minutes, with substitute Leanne Kiernan equalising for the Reds in the second half to continue her rich vein of form in front of goal.

Rylee Foster then saved Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah’s penalty before all five of the Reds’ penalty takers coolly converted their spot kicks, with Ashley Hodson netting the fifth and final shot to earn the Reds a bonus point in the unique format of the Continental Cup.

The League Cup competition has, in recent years adopted a group stage format. Each group is comprised of five teams from across the WSL and Championship. Each team will play each other once, with the top two in each group going through to the quarter finals.

If any of these games in the mini leagues ends level after normal time, as it did at Prenton Park on Wednesday, then the tie goes to penalties to determine who will earn a bonus point.

The Reds were drawn in Group A this year alongside their midweek opponents Villa and fellow Championship sides Blackburn, Sunderland and Sheffield United, a favourable group which they will be hoping to get out of this year after their inability to do so last campaign after they were placed in a difficult group.

Matt Beard, who has guided his side to three league wins on the bounce prior to this game, decided to ring the changes to the starting team who defeated Sheffield United on Sunday, presumably to give key players some rest ahead of the international break.

There were seven alterations to the team who started at Bramall Lane. Rhiannon Roberts, Lucy Parry, Carla Humphrey and Georgia Walters all came in for their first starts of the season, with the latter also registering her full debut for the club she joined on a short term deal last month.

Rylee Foster, Meikayla Moore and Jade Bailey were also restored to the starting line up as Rachel Laws, Charlotte Wardlaw, Niamh Fahey, Ceri Holland, Leanne Kiernan, Leighanne Robe and Rachel Furness all made way.

The away side, who currently sit seventh in the WSL table got off to a flying start with Hayles netting the opener just two minutes into the game after a blistering counter attack. Hinds’ deep corner for the Reds was cleared and Villa broke, with Alisha Lehmann laying the ball off to the Jamaican forward, who drove inside before firing low into the far corner beyond the despairing dive of Foster.

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The Reds responded well to going a goal down and fashioned an opportunity to equalise on 20 minutes when Walters held the ball up well before finding Kearns, whose low effort from the edge of the box drifted wide of the target.

Moore then had a chance five minutes from the break to draw Liverpool level, but she poked wide from close range after getting on the end of Lawley’s inviting cross from the right, as the Reds went in behind at the break.

Beard opted to make two changes at half time with Robe and Yana Daniels coming on in place of Hinds and Jasmine Matthews, leaving Kearns to take the captain’s armband for the second period.

The Reds continued to probe for a route back into the game in the second half, with Moore’s teasing deep cross being clawed away by Sian Rodgers before Parry could get on the end of it.

Kearns, who, along with Hinds, was recently called up to the England u23 squad for upcoming game against Belgium was then herself replaced just after the hour mark by Kiernan, in what proved to be an inspired substitution by the manager.

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The Republic of Ireland striker had an instant impact, netting the equaliser just three minutes after her introduction off the bench. She managed to weave her way past a number of challenges in the box before coolly slotting into the bottom corner to spark jubilant scenes amongst players and fans.

Kiernan’s night would end prematurely as she picked up a back injury which forced her to go off on 78 minutes and be replaced by Holland, who put in a superb shift defensively to ensure the Reds didn’t concede any more goals.

Villa then piled on the pressure in search of a winning goal, but they were unable to break down a stubborn Liverpool rearguard and the game went to the dreaded penalty shootout.

Boye-Hlorkah stepped up first for the away side, but Foster guessed the right way and produced a terrific sprawling save to push her effort away from goal, which would ultimately prove to be the match winning moment for the Reds.

Bailey and Holland both found the net with their spot kicks in between Remi Allen scoring for Villa.

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Sarah Mayling, Jodie Hutton and Ramona Petzelberger were also on target for the visitors in the shootout but Daniels and Robe maintained Liverpool’s 100pc record from the spot before Hodson sealed the bonus point by rifling home the fifth and final penalty.

Beard will be pleased with just how well Liverpool battled against higher quality opposition, especially given the number of changes he had made.

Foster again proved her worth to the Reds with a crucial intervention in the shoot out with Kiernan scoring her fourth goal in three games and youngster Parry impressing in her first outing for the club this campaign.

He will be concerned by the numerous injury worries which BBC journalist Emma Sanders outlined after the game. Fahey was absent from the squad on Wednesday with a foot issue, whilst Kiernan went off after a back spasm and Moore twisted her ankle.

They join Rianna Dean and Megan Campbell on a mounting injury list for the Reds, but the manager will be hoping the upcoming international break will allow a number of those with niggles time to recover in time for Liverpool’s next league game at the end of the month when they take on Lewes at Prenton Park.


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