Liverpool hosted Leicester City for their first match of 2021, after their match last weekend was postponed due to not having enough fit players. It was also the first match without Vicky Jepson at the helm, as she and the club parted ways earlier this week.
Amber Whiteley named her first side in charge of the Reds, as they looked to close the eight point gap with the table topping Leicester City. The acting boss had some decisions to make as stalwarts Rachel Furness and Melissa Lawley were only fit enough for the bench. Missy Bo Kearns was selected for another start in midfield, and 16 year old Lucy Parry got her first senior team start in the league in place of Furness and Lawley.
The game started out with both teams struggling to maintain consistent possession on the bobbly pitch at Prenton Park. The ball ran long several times as both squads looked to spring attacks. In the 9th minute, Liverpool were finally able to connect.
Taylor Hinds played a worm-burner into the left channel for Amalie Thestrup. The Danish forward collected the ball and immediately cut infield before fizzing in a low cross. Young Missy Bo Kearns made a hard-charging run from her midfield position to tuck the ball in for a Liverpool goal!
Liverpool seemed buoyed by the goal, and were on the front foot for the next several minutes. The Reds began to gain some control in the midfield, and had a few more forays forward, highlighted by a shot from just outside the box from Rinsola Babajide that required a smart save from the Leicester City keeper.
The Foxes, for their part, weathered the storm, and began to create some chances. They also seemed intent on doing whatever they could to get Rinsola Babajide sent off after the Liverpool player was booked for kicking the ball away after a foul. The referee seemed obliged to call a foul any time there was the most minimal contact, and the Leicester City players went full Harry Kane with their theatrics, including the coach yelling at the ref to produce a second yellow for a non-foul.
Despite the theatrics, Liverpool looked solid at the back, and did a good job to snuff out any dangerous chances. Rachael Laws was aggressive off her line to charge down a ball that was bouncing around the box, and took a whack for her efforts. She stayed down for a couple of minutes, but was able to continue.
Unfortunately, the referee’s penchant for a quick whistle caused Liverpool more than a little trouble as Leicester City were awarded a penalty late in the first half. It’s unclear what the foul was called for as Liverpool cleanly won the ball off of the attacker in the box. Potentially there was a foul for blocking a player from making a run off the ball, but we’ll never know because the FA Player doesn’t do replays. Regardless, the Foxes sunk the penalty, and the teams entered the dressing rooms level at the half.
The Reds made one change at the half, bringing on Melissa Lawley for Amalie Thestrup. Unfortunately, Lawley wouldn’t be on the field long. Just a few seconds into the half, the substitute was whistled for a foul. While it was definitely a foul, the referee decided it was a red card offense, which seemed quite harsh. Liverpool were left to play the rest of the game down a player.
Despite only having 10 on the field, Liverpool played quite well in the second half. They continued to defend resolutely, and made quite a few forays forward. Rachel Furness was introduced to add some additional aggressiveness and a potential aerial threat, and Jess Clarke was also introduced for the first time since her injury a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, Liverpool were again undone late in the match. With players pressed forward looking for another goal and a desperately needed three points, Liverpool were left with minimal cover in the back. The Leicester City player did a wonderful job to use her body to shield off the defender, and then turn and take a low shot that squeezed under Rachael Laws.
Liverpool kept pushing to try and find a late equalizer, but were unable to break through. They fell 11 points adrift of Leicester City in the sole promotion spot. It’s hard to see any scenario where Liverpool can now gain promotion. With no reinforcements in sight, it seems like at least one more season in the FA Women’s Championship is all but determined.