The LFC Women’s side has been on an absolute tear over the past two months, rising up the table to sit atop the FA Women’s Championship. Matt Beard’s squad has played well over that stretch, controlling the flow of the game and showing great attacking verve. According to the manager, however, the last outing against Sunderland was the best so far this season.
“I was absolutely delighted with our performance on Saturday night,” said Beard. “It was our best performance of the season and I thought we were consistent within our performance level throughout, and we also had a ruthless side to us. Obviously we were disappointed to concede the opening goal from a set-piece. But beyond that, their goalkeeper made three very good saves in the first half alone and again in the second half, and we also hit the woodwork three times. The scoreline could have been a lot greater than what it says, but the pleasing thing was from start to finish it was a dominant performance. In midweek we took our foot off the gas, even though we beat Blackburn Rovers in the Continental Cup. We nearly got punished in the end but on Saturday we showed a great sign in the way we responded to going a goal down and we continued to do what we have been doing.”
The way the team responded to the early goal was heartening to see. There was no panic or worry, and it felt like the side knew it was a matter of when they scored, not if. With the team piling on the pressure, Liverpool earned more than a free kicks and corner kicks. The Reds scored from one set piece opportunity, and came quite close several other times. Beard made sure to highlight the work of analyst Jordan Kevan.
“We caused them a lot of problems with our set-pieces and our analyst Jordan Kevan deserves a lot of credit for that. Jordan and Pottsy [Joe Potts, goalkeeping coach] work really hard on our set-pieces for and against, and we are really pleased with the rewards we are now getting from that.”
Yana Daniels was the benefactor of one of the set piece routines, leaping high above two defenders to head in from close range after Rachel Lawless headed a corner kick back across the face of goal. It was Daniel’s first goal of the season. Joining Daniel’s in breaking the duck was Melissa Lawley. While Lawley has played provider on more than a few occasions, she hadn’t found the back of the net until the Sunderland match, and it was in spectacular fashion as well. Beard was very happy to see the two wide forwards join goal scorer extraordinaire Leanne Kiernan on the score sheet.
“It was so pleasing to see Yana Daniels and Melissa Lawley get their first goals of the season for us and I was delighted for them. Leanne Kiernan is scoring consistently for us now and is doing really well. Yana is a threat – she is great in the air. And Mel deserved that goal, what a great finish it was. I said to Mel at half-time that she would get her goal tonight. What I liked about the goal was the way she slowed the defender down and shifted the ball and then it was a great finish. It was very clever and you could see from her face when she scored how much that meant to her. Mel has been really good for us this season and that goal will settle her down now and allow her to continue what she’s been doing for us.”
Beard also made sure to highlight how important the play is from some of the more unheralded players. With a glut of games over the past month, Beard has had to rely on the quality depth Liverpool accrued over the summer.
“This was a really tough month for us. We had Sheffield United away in the cup, Blackburn Rovers at home, Durham away and Sunderland away. We have done a lot of travelling in the past three weeks for starters and you add to that 12 players played two games for their international teams. In a five-week period some of these girls have played so much football. I said all along we were going to rotate the squad for the Continental Cup games because the league is our priority. The great thing for me is when we have rotated, players have come in and done really well. You look at Carla Humphrey’s performance midweek against Blackburn when she was outstanding. You watch Carla in training now and it’s the player that I worked with at Bristol City. It has taken her time to settle and adjust but it’s great to see her playing the football I know she is capable of playing. Everyone is motivated because we have given all of our squad minutes and they have all stepped up to the plate. We like playing away from home because teams will have a go at us more when they are at their place and it means we can play a little bit differently to what we would do at home. It’s been a fascinating month and we’ve had to show so many different sides to the way that we can play. Everything I’ve asked of the players they have done. I have to say Ceri Holland’s performance for us in midfield at Sunderland on Saturday was her best display of the season so far for me. She was absolutely outstanding and she deserves a mention.”
Beyond just the quality of depth in the side, Beard feels very lucky to have more than a few leaders on the team. In fact, with rest an imperitive, Liverpool turned to young Scouser Missy Bo Kearns to captain the side against Blackburn. Beard said it was the squad’s decision to have the Academy product become the youngest captain in club history.
“I want to say congratulations to the Scouser in our team Missy Bo Kearns, who led the team out as captain against Blackburn Rovers in the Continental Cup. It was interesting how that came about actually with our psychologist Dr Francesca Champ. We didn’t have Niamh Fahey or Rachel Furness starting the game – our captain and vice-captain or Jasmine Matthews. We had a good group discussion and everyone had an input into making that decision. I love Missy Bo because to me she epitomises Liverpool FC. She goes to all the men’s first-team games when we are not in action and she just loves her football. She knows the game and I looked at it and thought, ‘How can I challenge her and continue to develop her?’”
Having been manager of Liverpool when they won back to back WSL titles, Beard has seen some of the best of the best at the club. He feels that Kearns has all the attributes to be a long term captain of her childhood club.
“If I look at her progress as a footballer from when we first came to where she is now, there is a massive difference in the way she performs. I remember giving Gemma Bonner an opportunity to captain the Liverpool team when she was younger. I had players like Fara Williams, Natasha Dowie and Whitney Engen and for me it’s about leading by example when you are out on that pitch and the way you conduct yourself day in, day out. Missy Bo has got so many qualities that I saw in Gemma as a young player. The fact she is a local girl and came through our youth system, I wanted to give her that responsibility and I wanted to help her understand what it takes to be captain of Liverpool. I said after the Blackburn game, 100 per cent in the future she will be Liverpool’s captain for many years to come, for sure. She is Liverpool through and through and she loves this club. I just can’t wait to see her kick on for the rest of the season and beyond. She absolutely deserved the armband.”