Sunday, 10 June 2012

Lincoln Ladies 3-2 Liverpool Ladies

Continental Cup group stage match day three.

On the face of it there wasn't an awful lot for either side to play for here today. Lincoln had already qualified from the group after a tight 2-1 win away at Chelsea and a cracking 4-3 win over holders Arsenal at Ashby Avenue. Liverpool on the other hand had lost both group games and had no chance of advancing to the semi finals. However with both Arsenal and Chelsea both on three points if the Imps had lost here today a win for either of them could see them top the group so Lincoln needed a point to make sure all their good work in the first two group games didn't go to waste.
Liverpool are having a poor season to date and are bottom of both the WSL and the Continental Cup group. In the league they had only managed to collect a solitary point from their 5 league games scoring four goals and shipping in 13. However after the Imps defeat to Doncaster last time out (who were before kick off, bottom of the league) I am sure they would not be taking anybody lightly.
This was the first home match of the season that was to be played on a Saturday so it was and ideal opportunity to take the train to the game and stop off at a few pubs and the chippy en route to the match. The Nosey Parker pub being a good halfway stopping point and decent place to watch some of the cricket. Luckily i was just getting to the ground when it started to rain which was a bit of a bugger as there was a cricket game waiting to take place at the pitch outside the football ground.
I had managed to pick up a Lincolnshire Echo on the way to the ground and had a good read of the sports section in the clubhouse while supping a pint. The Echo really seems to have upped its game this season with its regards coverage of the Lady Imps which is great to read. Its certainly better than reading the depressing stories about Lincoln City being skint. The main thrust of the interviews was the need to bounce back after the Doncaster game, and to make sure that their good start to the season didn't go to waste.
It was still pouring it down as we went through the turnstiles but it eased off just before kick off. The crowd did seem a little down on previous home matches. Whether it was down to the on/off rain, or the fact that the Imps already qualified for the semi finals i am not quite sure. It could be down to the fact that it was a Saturday. The Imps have rearranged a couple of Saturday games to be played on a Sunday so it maybe that Sunday is seen as WSL day for many folk. Whatever the reason it was strange that the crowd was about 100 or so down on the crowd from the Doncaster game that was played midweek.
Just another sunny Lincs afternoon.
On the pitch Sophie Bradley started her first game of the season alongside fellow England centre back Casey Stoney, in what was another new centre back partnership for the Imps this season. Meaghan Sargeant was given a start at Left back. With Jess Clarke still out the Imps went with Carla Cantrell and Precious Hamilton up front. So far this season the partnership hasn't quite sparked just yet but thankfully they played much better in this game and look like they are starting to understand each others game.
Nice to meet you, to meet you....
It was Lincoln who kicked the game off and proceeded to boot the ball straight out of play. They did quickly gain the upper hand however as Liverpool struggled to cope with the Imps' crisp passing football. The downpour before the game had certainly made the surface slicker which helped the Imps passing game. The first half-chance arrived after about 5 minutes or so when Precious skipped past the fullback and crossed the ball over to Collette McCallum who failed to get a good contact on the ball.  Minutes later she had another good chance when she collected a great crossfield pass, turned the Liverpool right back inside out, but after doing all the hard work unleashed a tame shot along the ground that was comfortably collected by Davis in the Liverpool goal. The Imps were winning a few corners and the Liverpool defence didn't look too comfortable in dealing with them as Lucy Staniforth's deliveries were as ever first class.

But then after making all the running in the game the Imps found themselves behind on 17 minutes and i am pretty sure they wont concede a more bizarre goal this season. Under no real pressure from Liverpool Sophie Bradley knocked a harmless looking back pass back to Nicola Hobbs for her to clear. However the ball took a bobble just as Nic went to clear it and nestled in the far corner of the net. This was a real howler for Lincoln but you can't really blame either party. It was just one of those freak incidents that happen in football from time to time i.e Paul Robinson in Croatia a few years ago. 99 times out of a hundred the keeper launches the ball. However the annoying thing about this kind of thing is that it never happens to a team when they are 4-0 up. It was a huge kick in the teeth for Lincoln and a good test of their mental strength and resolve. A test i am pleased to say they passed with flying colours as the game went on.
Lincoln went up the other end of the pitch and laid siege to the Liverpool goal. Sargeant hit a piledriver from just outside the box which drew the save of the day form Davis.
The Imps were soon level though and it was Carla Cantrell who grabbed the goal. Again it started with a Staniforth ball in. A shot was blocked by the Liverpool defence but the ball fell to Cantrell who spun and unleashed a powerful low shot into the back of the net; 1-1 with 25 minutes gone.
You would have thought that from now on Lincoln would go on and really take the game to their visitors but it was Liverpool who took the lead again. From a decent attack they won a corner and, just like Doncaster in the previous match, scored from it; Hannah Keryakoplis lost her marker and unleashed a bullet header into the back of the net. There are two ways you can look at this goal. From a Liverpool view you could argue that it was a well worked move to allow one of their players to break off and win a free header, but as a Imp it was disappointing to see the player get free and being allowed a free header. Manager Glen Harris made a point in his programme notes about the need for players to concentrate for the full 90 minutes and cut out individual mistakes so i am sure he would have been most unhappy with the marking for the goal.

Thankfully though Lincoln again hit straight back and again it came as the result of a corner (It would seem that nobody can defend corners in the WSL) Stainforth again sent in an absolute peach of a ball and following a goalmouth scramble Megan Harris managed to bundle the ball over the line for 2-2. It was the midfielder's third goal of the season and made her the club's top scorer this season.
Lincoln had a golden chance to take the lead in the last minute of the half when another Precious cross was poorly dealt with by the Liverpool keeper as she tipped it to McCallum at the back post who's volley went well wide.
That was the last action of an interesting first half and if the score stayed as it was Lincoln would have done enough to top the group regardless of what happened between Arsenal and Chelsea on Sunday. Although the defending from Lincoln had been suspect at times there were also plenty of positives. Meaghan Sargeant had made some good forward runs from full back and had looked solid defensively too. McCallum had managed to get into the box a few times and with a bit more luck could have grabbed herself a goal. The most pleasing aspect for me was the form of the front two, as both Hamilton and Cantrell had worked very hard for each other and were a real handful for Liverpool. Both Allen and Walton had also covered plenty of ground for the Imps in a half that Lincoln shaded overall.
It was Precious who had the first chance of the second half and it was a good chance as the shot was played through, the Liverpool defence appealed for an offside flag that never came and she fired her shot wide. Both managers looked like they had read their sides the riot act at halftime as the second half was much tighter with both sides looking a little more solid than in the first.
Lincoln started to make a few changes with Daly replacing Sargeant in a like for like swap. Hamilton again had a good chance but Davis just got a finger tip to her shot which flew across the face of the goal. The referee and his assistant somehow managed to miss the save and signalled for a goal kick. The fact that the Liverpool stopper smiled when one of the crowd shouted out "Nice save keep" said it all. It was a decent save as well by the way.
With about 20 minutes to go the Imps replaced CC with Martha Harris who was making her first appearance of the season and she showed some great touches and certainly got stuck into the Liverpool players. Hamilton was becoming a real pain for the Liverpool defence and on another day could have had a hat-trick; when she is in this mood she is pretty much unplayable. Not only was she creating chances for herself but she also set up chances for Allen and McCallum. Megan Harris had a decent chance to grab her second goal of the game but her header flashed just wide of the post.
Lincoln made their last change with Barker replacing Bradley but the game was looking like it was heading for a draw (which suited Lincoln.) Then Lincoln won a corner and from yet another trademark Staniforth delivery Lincoln (and England) Captain Casey Stoney rose majestically like a salmon to bury a header from about 5 yards out to give the Imps the lead for the first time in the match. So three goals for Lincoln and three assists from Lucy Staniforth who had a big hand in all three of them.
For the last 7 or 8 minutes or so Liverpool actually dominated more than they had done in the previous 80 odd minutes and had a flurry of free kicks and corners around the Lincoln box but the Imps managed to see the match out and make it three wins out of three in the Continental cup group stage, and they have certainly been entertaining with a total of nine goals scored and six goals conceded. There is never a dull moment when Lincoln Ladies are concerned, and as a fan its better to see a 3-2 battle than a 1-0 tussle, although i am sure the management team would beg to differ.

Before the match Glen Harris had said in his echo interview about the need for the side to show character. In coming from behind twice to win the game i felt they showed character by the bucket load today so a big tick can be put in that box. Especially impressive was the team's reaction to the first goal, with a special mention to Nic in the Imps goal. Incidents like this can destroy a keeper's confidence but she just brushed it off and got on with it. There are still defensive issues to resolve but that will come once we get a settled back four. Having secured top spot in the group the Ladies can sit back tomorrow with feet up, watch the Euro 2012 games on the box and wait to see who they will face in the semi finals.
Staying on the International theme. The Lady Imps have a couple of weeks off for the international break. I would like to congratulate Casey Stoney and Sophie Bradley on their call up to the England squad for the European championship qualifier against the Netherlands at Salford. I am looking forward to cheering them on at the game next Sunday! (Got tickets a week or so ago)  Lets hope it's a fine England win.
Also on the International front its great to see Remi Allen, Sophie Walton, Lucy Staniforth, and Rachel Daly all called up for an England under 23 training camp. Congratulations to all involved and its great to see so many Lincoln players getting international recognition and it shows how bright the future is for Lincoln Ladies FC.

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