Liverpool FC Women have truly been on fire, despite the unfortunate loss in the Continental Cup tournament - they have cruised past teams like Crystal Palace and even sent Lincoln City packing to get to the fifth round of the FA Cup. And with the addition of a striking talent like Katie Stengel, things are only going to get better, even as they may get more difficult.
“I was delighted with our overall performance on Sunday in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup tie with Lincoln City,” manager Matt Beard wrote in his column for the club on Wednesday.
“When you play in these type of games they can be a bit tricky at first. Lincoln City came with a game plan and tried to stay in the game as long as they could, and I felt they executed that brilliantly, to be fair, before it was a set-play that undid them.
“The third goal, for me, was a great goal because we had identified those spaces in behind them. We had spoken to Charlotte Wardlaw about that just before she played that diagonal ball. When we went from one side of the pitch to the other, their back line became stretched.”
One of the best additions to the squad has been striker Katie Stengel, as she’s been able to step up with Melissa Lawley injured, and really contribute in her first weeks on the team. Beard, of course, managed Stengel when he was at the Boston Breakers and knew how to get the best from her.
“I thought Katie Stengel’s movement and the pass from Charlotte was first-class. The weight of the pass and then Katie’s movement, touch and finish was world-class,” continued the manager.
“We see that every day in training from Katie. I only worked with her for a couple months at Boston Breakers, but one thing we noticed around training was that she was a fantastic finisher. She joined us late in Boston so didn’t get much starting time. But the injury to Melissa Lawley has allowed her to step in and she has been brilliant for us.
“Katie has got a great personality, she is funny and she has settled in really well. The girls are brilliant in helping a new player settle in. Katie has been a great addition for us and I always knew she would be suited to English football. She is intelligent, she has a great football brain and she just gives us something different. I just felt Katie was the final piece in the jigsaw with regards to the overall balance of our squad, especially with her experience – and that is vitally important. The minute I knew we could get the visa, I wanted to make this signing happen.”
On the other side of the pitch, Sunday was also time for Leighanne Robe to score her first goal for Liverpool, and she went on to do it in spectacular fashion - by adding two more for a hat trick. Scoring goals as a defender is already uncommon enough, but a hat trick is definitely a surprise - even for Beard.
“I’ve got to mention our hat-trick hero Leighanne Robe. Everyone knows what a great personality Robey is, but in terms of football she has worked incredibly hard on the training ground,” Beard added.
“She wants to improve and she wants to learn. She is constantly challenging herself and one thing we have spoken about is her wanting to get that goal. Because she is such a good defender and brilliant at one-v-one situations, we tend to leave her back when we have a set-piece because we can leave ourselves open sometimes.
“She hit the bar twice as well on Sunday and was a real threat for us all day. I was delighted she managed to get the goal and it was fitting that she managed to get the hat-trick. She did take a penalty for us before and scored in the Continental Cup earlier this season. It was just great to see because she is a fantastic character, and she is so valuable in the dressing room and on the pitch. I just think her development this year has been second to none, with and without the ball.
“She has got better and she still puts herself under pressure to continue to improve – and that’s the sign of a good player. I’m delighted for her and it was a fitting afternoon.”
Of course, Stengel and Robe weren’t the only standouts from Sunday’s stellar performance, as Carla Humphrey also made it to the score sheet and made an impact with two assists to two of Robe’s goals. Humphrey unfortunately started the season injured but has really shown her talent as she’s been able to settle in.
“Carla Humphrey had a fine game for us on Sunday and provided two great assists for Robey’s first two goals. Carla is a great player. For whatever reason, when she came in pre-season she put herself under a bit of pressure and she started to do things maybe she wouldn’t normally do,” continued the manager.
“It’s taken Carla a little while to settle in. She’ll be the first to admit she hasn’t played as many games as she would have liked, but when she has played she has done well. In training she is doing really well and her performance recently against Tottenham Hotspur was her best in a Liverpool shirt.
“I felt she started the game slowly on Sunday but she grew into it. She is a threat on set-plays and she is a very intelligent and a very gifted footballer. I’m delighted she is now starting to find her form and she is back to the Carla I knew when I was with her at Bristol City.
“We’ve got so much depth and strength in our squad now, and in our last two games we have utilised the 15 players that we have had available and everyone is playing their part.”
All eyes now turn towards Coventry United this weekend as the march towards promotion continues. Liverpool have a sizeable gap at the top of the table they need to maintain and hopefully this momentum will carry them through securing the league early (knock on wood).
“On Sunday we continue our promotion charge when we face Coventry United Ladies at Prenton Park,” wrote Beard.
“For us, we will continue to take it game by game and our focus is on Sunday and trying to get the three points and maintaining our lead at the top of the FA Women’s Championship. We have got back-to-back home games now, with Sunderland to follow before the international break, but our focus is only on Coventry United.
“The draw for the Vitality Women’s FA Cup fifth round saw us get a home game against Arsenal. I’m absolutely delighted with it. We are doing well, we are in a good moment and I’m delighted that we will be testing ourselves against one of the best teams in the Women’s Super League.
“I think it’s going to be a great tie for us. I wanted us to draw a team from the WSL and a side we can benchmark ourselves against as well. But, as I said, we are playing well at the moment, we have got a very talented team. I think this team could compete in the WSL and it’s a game we will relish and look forward to.”
The match on Sunday will be at 2pm GMT from Prenton Park, likely to be streamed on LFCTV and YouTube. Up the Red Women.