Liverpool Women lost ground in the race for a Champions League spot as they laboured to a 1-1 draw against struggling Bristol City, writes James Cranford at Prenton Park.
The opening exchanges were cagey, with little in the way of goalmouth action. Shanice van de Sanden started brightly, keeping the away defence occupied with her running in behind.
It was Van de Sanden who created Liverpool’s best early moment, playing a low cross in from the left hand side of the penalty area. Sophie Román Haug collected the ball, but her shot was easily blocked.
— MerseySportLive (@merseysportlive) December 10, 2023
It was the visitors that had the first clear chance. Just as they had done from a free kick moments earlier, Reds defenders committed the cardinal sin of allowing the ball to bounce in the penalty area. City’s Naomi Layzell picked up the pieces, but her shot from close range was deflected over the bar.
Liverpool’s midfield struggled for fluency throughout the first half. Fuka Nagano, Marie Höbinger and Ceri Holland were all guilty of giving the ball away on occasions and moves consisting of more than a few consecutive passes were few and far between. Something would have to change for Matt Beard’s charges in the second half if they were to avoid dropping points to the league’s bottom side.
Something did change for the Reds almost immediately after the break – the scoreline. Despite being the smaller side player for player, Bristol City had already threatened from set pieces. This was the route by which they broke the deadlock. Amalie Thestrup was the first to react to some penalty area pinball from a recycled corner, flicking the ball past the helpless Teagan Micah.
Another woeful pass from Fuka Nagano led to a professional foul and a booking for Grace Fisk. Beard had seen enough. Melissa Lawley came on for Emma Koivisto and shortly afterwards the home side began to splutter into life.
Persistent handful van de Sanden volleyed wide from a headed flick on, and the Reds found themselves on level terms with the hour mark approaching. Captain Taylor Hinds delivered a dangerous cross from the left wing and summer signing Haug headed home from close range.
It's Sunday so Sophie Roman Haug is scoring headers again 🙌 pic.twitter.com/bE2mGxtt1Q
— Liverpool FC Women (@LiverpoolFCW) December 10, 2023
Having conceded an equaliser and forced to soak up the pressure applied by a reenergised home side, Bristol City could have been forgiven for shutting up shop. To their credit they offered a threat on the break. Abi Harrison stung the hands of goalkeeper Micah from close range and Jamie-Lee Napier and Ffion Morgan showed a constant willingness to make tiring counterattacking runs. Substitute Mari Ward struck a left footed shot well wide towards the end of the contest.
With the exception of a good run and cross down the right from Leanne Kiernan, Liverpool’s substitutes struggled to build on the momentum created by their goal and chances again began to run dry. Missy Bo Kearns came close to grabbing the headlines, but her injury time effort from distance was parried over the top by Olivia Clark.
The Reds now sit fifth in the WSL, one place behind Manchester United. The two old rivals face-off next Sunday, with both looking to narrow the gap to the Champions League spots.