This was it. The long awaited new campaign began on Sunday, with Durham traveling to Prenton Park in Birkenhead — across the river from Liverpool proper, if you’d like to know.
Our Liverpool Women have been training for this moment, spirits were high, and new and old signings were ready to go. Even Jess Clarke was able to make it onto the bench after being injured most of last season, and it was Ashley Hodson’s 100th appearance for Liverpool. Even with the success of their pre-season matches, winning four and drawing one, things looked absolutely sunny for the Red Women.
And for about the first twenty minutes, things looked just as good as we had all hoped they would be. Much of Liverpool’s talent comes from their defense, despite their poor record, and center halves Taylor Hinds and new captain Niamh Fahey do their best to mollify every chance that Durham has to the best of the abilities.
Rachel Laws proves that her return is much more than nostalgia based as she easily deals with a cross from Durham’s Nicki Gears.
Rinsola Babajide, as usual, is the bright spot in Liverpool’s attacking forces, as she is able to move the ball as if by magic through Durham defenses. Liverpool’s problem has never been about getting the ball into advantageous spots, but about finding the connections with players that are able to put it away. Babajide, for all her skill, cannot do all the work herself.
Rachel Furness, on the other hand, is able to get to the places where maybe she could put it in the back of the net — and today she does. Furness picks up on a lofted pass from Babajide down the left flank, and opens the scoring for the Reds just before halftime by sending it across Durham’s keeper.
The second half, of course, is where things started to take a turn for the worse. Unused to defending a lead, Liverpool unfortunately began to sit back a little bit and Durham took more chances through the space that the Reds gave away. They did their best to take more control over the game, and again Babajide began to shine as she found new and more creative ways to move the ball towards the final third, but also somehow gets a yellow card for her efforts.
Vicky Jepson makes her first change of the match around the hour mark, bringing on Jess Clarke for new signing Amalie Thestrup and Jade Bailey taking over at fullback for Rhiannon Roberts. Clarke and Babajide’s linkup play is a thing of beauty and always has given this writer hope for their parts in the Reds’ attack.
Through all of this Durham continues to press, causing plenty of turnovers and thus plenty of trouble for the midfield and Reds defense. While there are many chances, not many of them hard to deal with for Laws, except for one tidy turn by Molly Sharpe that Laws was forced to collect quickly before it turned into an equalizer. With all the chances taken at both ends of the pitch, there was definitely the distinct feeling that another goal would come, although it could’ve come from either side.
And then it did.
87 minutes in and playing with 10 women due to injury, Durham force a turnover from a throw in near the Liverpool box and Beth Hepple is able to neatly push the ball past Rachel Laws to give Durham the equalizer.
Even though the Reds are able to put the pressure on through a bunch of corners in stoppage time, they’re unable to find that winning goal and start the new campaign off with one point — which, to be fair, is a lot better than how last year’s campaign started.
A lot of focus has turned to the Women’s team in the past few months, as many more outlets have decided to try and figure out what went wrong with the squad and the club. Even as their performance on Sunday suggested, it was never really about the talent of the players or the knowledge of the manager, but about the conditions and the state of rival teams that have started treating their women’s clubs like actual teams worth spending money on.
Liverpool only made four signings this summer, and none of them the caliber that their FA WSL rivals have signed. Even if they do win promotion this year, and it’s a pretty sizable if, they’ll have to do a lot more to compete with those clubs that are signing mega stars and bringing home grown superstars back to England.
A draw in the Championship League against Durham isn’t going to show the higher ups that this team is worth investing in, but it’s the bed that those same higher ups have made for themselves.