On what was a beautiful warm Sunday morning, WSL side Liverpool Women were the visitors to Eppleton Colliery Welfare, in a Continental cup group match. Both managers made changes to their respective regular league starting line ups.
I came to the ground expecting a Liverpool win, their full time set up and larger squad made them huge favourites. I then reminded myself that as of this season, we now have a full time manager ourselves, the best in the Championship, and a squad of players who are not only disciplined enough to follow her game plan, but have the quality to hurt teams on the break.
The game started in glorious sunshine and with Liverpool in the ascendancy, American star Stengel hitting the bar after four minutes. It was a reminder to all in attendance in the crowd of 590 that this was going to be a tricky afternoon.
Manager Mel Reay had the lasses set up in a 5-4-1 formation, but the two full backs looked as though they’d been told to push on whenever they had the chance. Jessica Brown finished an excellent Sunderland move with a shot that was well saved in the 12th minute.
After 22 minutes, although our team had stuck to the task well, Liverpool got the breakthrough and goal their dominance deserved with a free kick from Megan Campbell. Campbell is becoming famous for her huge throw ins, but she knows how to strike a free kick too, on this evidence. Sunderland keeper Allison Cowling may have been slightly disappointed with her positioning of the wall.
The Lasses had some short spells of tidy play, but found it difficult to retain the ball in more advanced areas, as our forward players were often outnumbered by the Liverpool back line.
It was a difficult balance for manager Reay to strike against a side with the quality of Liverpool. She wanted to keep it tight and limit the space in around our box, but then to retain possession and have an outlet further up the field when we won the ball back in our defensive third proved difficult.
The second half played out in a similar fashion to the first, Furness and Lawley went close for the visitors with efforts on the Sunderland goal, the Lawley effort hitting the post. A fantastic last ditch challenge from McCatty saved a certain second goal from Stengel late on.
In all honesty the Liverpool performance was deserving of another goal. This game was always going to about trying different options that will stand the Lasses in good stead as the season progresses. Faye Mullen showed lots of energy getting up and down the left side, before suffering an injury just before half time, Holly Manders showed she can be a real danger on the left of midfield and the versatile Emily Scarr played in three positions during the course of the match.
Reay knows that her team can stick to a game plan which kept them in the game until the final whistle. She will, however, be pondering how to get her side into more advanced areas of the pitch without leaving too many gaps in behind.
Allison Cowling 7/10
Had a good game, making some really splendid saves. She may be a bit disappointed with the goal. At time of me writing this, I’ve only seen it in real time, so sorry Allison if I’m wrong on that.
Louise Griffiths: 6/10
Was very steady in an unfamiliar position of right sided centre back of a three. She was her usual tough tackling self and her improvement season on season is a credit to the work both she and the coaching team have done.
Grace McCatty: 6/10
Another solid performance from the experienced centre half. The challenge she made on Stengel late on was of WSL quality to prevent a goal. Never lets Sunderland down.
Brianna Westrup: 6/10
Very similar to her other two central defensive partners on the day, in that she stuck to her task well. She made a superb block to stop a certain goal. She looks a very good signing.
Faye Mullen: 6/10
Was part of a back five, but she was obviously told get forward when we were in possession. Gutted she picked up an injury five minutes before half time, and was withdrawn. Steady performance.
Emma Kelly: 6/10
Was asked to play as a right back/right wing back in a back five. She’s been our best player this season and did well against a fluid Liverpool front line.
Danielle Brown: 6/10
Looked neat and tidy in midfield. Would liked to have got on the ball more than she did. Easier said than done though against a side which were always going to dominate possession.
Neve Herron: 7/10
Played just in front of the back four in a role that needed superb discipline. Was good in possession and made some crucial interceptions. Still more to come from the talented youngster as she makes her way back to full fitness after a foot injury.
Jessica Brown: 7/10
Looked lively and very nearly scored as part of the lasses best move of the game. Has looked good from the back end of last season into the start of this season.
Holly Manders: 7/10
Very similar to J Brown on the other side, she looked lively when we go the ball to her. Worked really hard and will have put herself in contention for another starting place in our next league game, at Crystal Palace, after the international break.
Emily Scarr: 7/10
Just keeps improving. Worked hard up front in a lone role. Moved to left back after the Mullen injury and then later on, moved back to a forward role in the second half, but behind substitute Nikki Gears.
Nicki Gears: 6/10
Worked hard, but we found it difficult to get more players around her in advanced positions.
Grace Ede: 6/10
Nice to see her back. Again, stuck to her task well. Neat and tidy.
Abbey Joice 6/10
Comfortable in possession. Worked hard. Couldn’t turn the tide of the game.
Libbi McInnes 6/10
Another nice cameo. So comfortable on the ball. I’m hoping to see her really breakthrough and get more minutes this season.
Player of the match... Allison Cowling
A difficult one for me. The players worked so hard against a very good Liverpool side. They all put their bodies on the line throughout the whole game. I’m going to go for Cowling. She made some excellent saves. Her handling was good and prevented Liverpool from going away winners by a more handsome margin.