It was all to play for in Group A of the FA Women’s Continental League Cup last night as any two of four teams remained in with a fighting chance of qualifying to the knockout stage.
Liverpool, buoyed by their first league goal in open play at the weekend, were looking to upset the odds and progress from the groups for the first time since 2017.
Hoping to qualify themselves were the competition’s only North East side, Durham, who are going strong in the FA Women’s Championship and unlike Liverpool who relied on results elsewhere, had their fate in their own hands and knew a win in 90 minutes guaranteed progression to the last eight.
It was the Merseyside club who drew first blood when Rinsola Babajide cut inside from the right and unleashed a ferocious curling effort into the top corner leaving Durham keeper Megan Borthwick stranded. This was the winger’s second goal in the competition after opening her account in the emphatic 6-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers earlier in the season.
Following the goal, Reds keeper Fran Kitching was swiftly called into action herself in the Liverpool goal when Molly Sharpe was free on the edge of the area and fired a right footed effort straight at the young keeper. Kitching was making her second consecutive start deputising for Anke Preuss whilst she recovers from a hand injury.
Liverpool responded with a chance of their own and Babajide nearly doubled her tally when Rhiannon Roberts floated a delightful ball in behind the Durham defence. The winger plucked the ball from the air before cutting inside onto her favoured left foot but her powerful effort was diverted away by the Borthwick.
It wasn’t long until Babajide did have her brace. A short corner from the right found the player on the edge of the area and after some quick feet to lose her defender, she let rip with an absolute rocket into the top corner to make it 2-0 and put Liverpool in a commanding position.
Things got even better for Vicky Jepson’s side just before the half-time break. Babajide, now turning provider, won the ball in the attacking third and whipped in a tremendous cross. All Niamh Charles had to do was tap the ball in at the back post to put her side 3-0 up just before half-time.
Liverpool very nearly made it four right after the restart. Some neat footwork from Charles on the right created the space for her to guide a cross into the area which was met on the full from half-time substitute Courtney Sweetman-Kirk to drive the ball into the bottom corner. However, much to her dismay the assistant referee had raised his flag to rule out a goal with her first touch.
Shortly after, Durham then got a goal back themselves to make it 3-1 and threaten an unlikely comeback. A through ball from Beth Hepple down the channel was fizzed into the area by Megan Bell on the flank and Sharpe was first to the ball to guide it beyond Kitching. Sharpe had looked Durham’s most dangerous threat throughout the game so it was no surprise that she got the breakthrough.
The next goal in the game was going to be crucial and you could tell both sides knew it too. There was an extra energy and bite to both teams’ play with them each speedily driving forward with every opportunity.
However, Liverpool were able to see the game out at 3-1 to take away all three points thus dooming Durham to elimination and giving themselves a fighting chance of coming second in the group. Yet they were still relying on Blackburn Rovers or Coventry United to get an unlikely result against Aston Villa and Sheffield United respectively. For a long time it seemed like an upset was on the cards as Coventry United led The Blades 2-1 going into the last three minutes of their match. Sadly, it was to be heartbreak for Vicky Jepson’s side as Sheffield United were able to get their equalising goal to get the point needed to push them to 10 and leave Liverpool stranded on nine.
Both Durham and Liverpool must now turn their attentions to their final league games of 2019. The sides are at opposite ends of their respective leagues and face vastly different challenges on Sunday. Liverpool host title challengers Chelsea as they continue to try and claw their way out of the relegation zone and Durham, trying to gain promotion from the FA Women’s Championship, face mid-table Crystal Palace at Hayes Lane.