Hanson the hero as Villa held to six-goal draw

Aston Villa welcomed Liverpool to Villa Park on the penultimate weekend of the 2022/23 Women’s Super League campaign, hoping to register a seasonal league double following success at Prenton Park as Rachel Daly’s second-half penalty proved to be the difference between the two sides in November.

On course to be presented with the Golden Boot Award after finding the back of the net on no less than 20 occasions this season, Daly once again began the match up top for Villa alongside Alisha Lehmann and Jordan Nobbs – who started the game in place of Laura Blindkilde. Daly’s goal contributions are even more impressive when you consider that she was deployed at left-back throughout England’s EURO 2022 win less than twelve months ago.

Without a victory on their travels throughout the 2022/23 WSL campaign – spanning a now demoralising 10-match sequence – Liverpool manager Matt Beard made two changes to the side that emerged victorious over Manchester City two weeks ago. The Reds would be hoping to bring a conclusion to that unwelcoming trend, with captain Niamh Fahey returning in place of Rhiannon Roberts and Miriael Taylor also coming into the side at the expense of Ceri Holland. 

AVL: Hampton; Mayling, Patten, Turner, Pacheco; Dali, Staniforth, Hanson; Nobbs, Lehmann, Daly 

LIV: Kirby; Koivisto, Bonner, Matthews, Hinds, Fahey, Taylor; Kearns, Nagano, Stengel; Dowie

Liverpool began assertively in front of a bumper crowd at Villa Park, as the visitors forced the early initiative with a couple of early corners. However, it was Villa that broke the deadlock in the eighth minute, as Manchester United loanee Kirsty Hanson smartly stole back possession inside the penalty area before sublimely directing a sweetly-struck strike into the far corner giving Faye Kirby no chance of making the save.

Not deterred by going behind, Liverpool were a matter of millimetres away from being back on level terms shortly after the quarter-hour mark, as Missy Bo Kearns’ ambitious long-range chip was spectacularly cleared off the line by a retreating Hannah Hampton – after the England international had become stranded outside her area.  Only returning to the Villa starting XI after missing the comprehensive 5-0 victory at Reading, Jordan Nobbs appeared distraught as she walked down the tunnel after failing to run off an injury sustained earlier in the game. 

The loss of Nobbs was further compounded with only five extra minutes gone on the North End scoreboard, as Liverpool’s top-scorer Katie Stengel equalised controversially in the 37th minute with an instinctive close-range header, despite it appearing that the American was standing in an offside position at the time. Unbelievably, the Reds appeared to have completed a sensational first-half comeback three minutes later, as Natasha Dowie was in the right place at the right time to venomously fire the ball beyond Hampton to give Beard’s side what they thought would be the lead heading into the half-time interval.

However, that would not be the case as Villa rallied back, and were rewarded for their renewed endeavours in the first minute of injury time, as Rachel Daly moved three goals clear of Manchester City’s Khadija Shaw in the Women’s Super League goalscoring charts with an expertly-taken finish following an excellent build-up of precise passes with Nobbs’ replacement, Simone Magill.

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Amid a distinctive lack of opportunities in front of goal throughout the opening quarter-hour of the second half, Liverpool manager Beard rolled the substitutional dice, introducing a hat-trick of alterations into the contest – that surprisingly included the withdrawal of Dowie. Nonetheless, the visitors restored their lead in the 62nd minute, as the goal-hungry Stengel exquisitely glanced Shanice van de Sanden’s pinpoint delivery into the box past Hampton.

Determined to get on the scoresheet for a second time, and subsequently get the Villans back into the game with twenty minutes of regular time to play, Hanson did precisely that – as the Scottish striker’s solo strike somehow found a way through the gloves of a bound-to-be disappointed Kirby. With time ticking down to find a winner in this breathtaking end-of-season contest for everyone in attendance, Daly came close to a 22nd goal of the season – but Kirby was able to atone for her earlier error with an authoritative save.

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Hanson’s equaliser ultimately proved to be the last opportunity for either side to find a winning goal, as an enthralling share of the spoils in Birmingham secures Aston Villa’s highest ever Women’s Super League finish – 5th. Meanwhile, Liverpool could ultimately prove to be a thorn in the side of their arch-footballing rivals and WSL title challengers Manchester United, as they meet at Prenton Park on Saturday afternoon in their final match of the season. 

Attendance: 7,517

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