It’s been a good stretch of play for Liverpool as of late. The Women hosted Brighton and Hove Albion Women at Prenton Park over the weekend and came from behind to secure a 2-1 win in front of the home fans, adding another notch to their current unbeaten streak.
“Sunday was a good day at the office for us and I was really pleased with the girls. It was a big win, just because Brighton have had the change in manager and that in itself is tough,” Manager Matt Beard wrote in his weekly column.
“We know Melissa Phillips from her time at London City Lionesses, so we knew it would be a tough game and we had an idea what to expect. It was a good win for us because of the way we responded to going 1-0 down and I thought our second-half performance was excellent.”
Things could’ve been worse, as Beard mentions that some (more) injury concerns came up ahead of the match, but the Women adapted as well as they possibly could.
“We had a couple of injury blows in the week leading up to the Brighton game. So with everything taken into consideration, the performance level in the second half was fantastic,” Beard continued.
“We are now four games unbeaten and I said to the players after the game that it’s not easy to do that in the Barclays Women’s Super League, going on runs like that.
“We did that in November/December and we are doing it again now. We turn our attentions to Leicester City on Saturday and hopefully we can make that five.”
The brightest spot of the season has to be the emergence of Ceri Holland as a reliable and tenacious midfielder around which the Reds can work. Scoring both goals to secure the win, and churning from end to end of the pitch (have you seen that heatmap?!), her presence has become invaluable to the team, and Beard made sure to highlight that, as well the teammates that help the cocktail work.
“Ceri Holland scored twice for us against Brighton and she has been fantastic,” Beard wrote.
“I asked her to do something different for us last season when we went to a 3-4-3 formation. We had good attacking players but in midfield we felt we weren’t quite at it, so we changed it to the 3-4-3 and Ceri was asked to do something slightly different.
“If you look at her game in the second half of this season since Fuka Nagano came in, she has got a lot more freedom to get forward – same with Missy Bo Kearns. Ceri has just been fantastic. She loves running – that’s clear from the running map – but she is powerful, quick, strong, she can turn defence into attack at the drop of a hat.
“There was a moment in the Brighton game when she had the ball tight under pressure, then she turned and the whole pitch opened up for us.
“I’m delighted she is adding goals to her game this season because I know she was frustrated not to be getting them last year. But as I said, she was doing something slightly different for the team.”
It’s no secret that the Women have been plagued with their own injuries problems, with nearly all of the issues coming from new signings and proven goal scorers. Last season’s breakout star Leanne Kiernan remains out, but Shanice van de Sanden is taking her return to the pitch, even in small increments, as helpful works towards full fitness.
“Shanice van de Sanden is getting fitter with each minute she plays and she did fantastically well for our equaliser,” the manager added.
“We know what Shanice brings to the table. I know it has been a stop-start season for her and she has been frustrated, but she has worked incredibly hard to get back fit.
“I said to her on Saturday, ‘Don’t leave anything on the pitch on Sunday’ and she definitely did that. She caused them so many problems and we knew we could get at them down that side.
“That’s another ticked box for Shanice now because she got 45 minutes the previous week in our friendly with Tottenham and now 60 against Brighton. So from that perspective it’s building those minutes, and she is game-changing for us.”
In addition to van de Sanden, the work has been to make sure the likes of Natasha Dowie, Gemma Bonner, and yes Leanne Kiernan, are able to return back to the squad sooner rather than later. Thankfully, Beard was able to provide some good news on that front.
“Yana Daniels picked up a knock in the midweek, so I gave Natasha Dowie a start and she did well for us,” Beard continued.
“Tats is getting sharper every day. You have to realise she hasn’t played a lot of football this season, so I was pleased with her performance and pleased with her work-rate. She got three shots off at goal as well.
“I know what Tats brings to the table and she is going to be a nightmare for defenders for the rest of this season. On the injury front, Gemma Bonner will be back in training this week, Leanne Kiernan continues to progress well, Carla Humphrey will be back and we will assess Yana’s knee for Leicester.
“If all goes well this week then we hope to have Leanne and Niamh Fahey back integrated into team training next week.”
The next match will likely come too quickly for Kiernan, who has been out since the beginning of the season, but with Carla Humphrey and Gemma Bonner on the track to return, the squad is only due to get stronger into the last legs of the season. That continues this weekend, as the Reds travel to Leicester to play Leicester Women at the King Power Stadium.
“On Saturday, we head to the King Power Stadium to face Leicester City (kick-off 12.30pm BST). I felt we were really unfortunate to lose to Leicester at home when we missed so many chances on the day,” the manager wrote.
“We are in a good position now. Leicester have got five games left and they need to win four out of them five because of our goal difference and theirs. Leicester need to win this game, so they are going to be the ones playing under pressure. We can go out and really concentrate on our performance and continue to develop as a team.
“There is still so much more for us to do but I think we have grown into this league over the course of the year and I always knew it would take time.
“We have been challenged so much tactically this season because of personnel and injuries, but we are playing with smiles on our faces and freedom. We are looking forward to Saturday.”