Liverpool 1-4 Manchester City: First-half rampage sends City top of the table

Manchester City returned to the top of the Barclays Women’s Super League table on Saturday with a ruthless performance at Liverpool, scoring three goals in less than ten minutes – including a stunning strike by Khadija Shaw to extend her tally as the league’s top scorer.

However, Gareth Taylor will be frustrated that his team couldn’t open up more of a gap in goal difference, with the race for the title resting on a knife edge.

Though Liverpool made a strong start to the match and Matt Beard’s smart use of substitutions gave them added energy through the second half, City’s rampage in the middle of the first half left them with too much to do.

The result means Manchester United can leapfrog their Merseyside rivals into fourth in the table tomorrow when they host Everton.

As it happened

Liverpool started the game on the front foot, looking to extend their five-match unbeaten run. Marie Höbinger and Sophie Roman Haug both looked lively for the Reds, who retained the ball well and dictated the game in the opening stages. Despite Matt Beard’s side enjoying almost two-thirds of possession in the first ten minutes, they failed to create shots from their dominance – and were quickly made to regret it.

As soon as Gareth Taylor’s side began stringing passes together around the fifteen-minute mark, they showcased their ruthlessness and attacking ability. Having initially struggled to break down Liverpool’s low block, Khadija Shaw unlocked the defence with a brilliant ball out to Mary Fowler. Fowler carried it forward to set up Jess Park – and though Rachael Laws was able to stop that initial effort, neither she nor her defenders could prevent Lauren Hemp slotting the ball home from the rebound after 16 minutes.

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The title challengers grabbed onto their momentum with both hands and Park doubled their lead four minutes later. A long ball from Alex Greenwood started City’s attack, and Fowler once again played in the in-form Park – this time she sent her shot well out of Laws’ reach, bouncing it in off the far post. Having barely ventured into Liverpool’s box in the first fifteen minutes, City’s clinical attacking gave them a comfortable lead with three-quarters of the match to play.

It wasn’t long before the inevitable Bunny Shaw’s first of the game – a contender for goal of the season. She needed only three touches in the middle of the Liverpool half to take the ball under her control and past Bonner before a stunning strike into the top right corner. City’s third, within two minutes of their second, set Liverpool – who had started so well – an almost impossible task.

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The hosts put in a valiant effort for the rest of the half – a careless error in midfield gave Leanne Kiernan the chance to run through on goal, but her shot rolled harmlessly wide. Sophie Roman Haug tried to catch Khiara Keating unawares in the 40th minute after Liverpool won possession in the midfield, but her shot was deflected for a corner.

The Reds could clearly pose a threat in attack, but City’s period of total dominance in the middle of the half (enjoying 82% possession from their first goal to the 32nd minute) had left them a mountain to climb and they entered the break with nothing to show for their efforts.

Matt Beard’s side were determined to salvage something from the game and made a flurry of attacking changes in the second half, including a triple change at the restart – but Shaw’s second of the game came early in the half and put the game truly out of Liverpool’s reach.

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The Jamaican’s simple header at the back post from Fowler’s corner was a disappointing one to concede, and from then it seemed clear Liverpool’s efforts would be in vain. The scoreline belied the Reds’ performance, particularly aided by their substitutes – Melissa Lawley and Mia Enderby proved astute introductions by Beard, giving City cause for concern several times.

It was another substitute, Taylor Hinds, who secured Liverpool’s only goal of the game, announcing her return from injury with an excellent strike that found its way into the corner via the woodwork and a bounce off Khiara Keating. Liverpool should take encouragement from their performance, which could well have bettered a lesser team, but City’s ruthless finishing in the first half had simply given them too much to do.

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Gareth Taylor will be frustrated to have sacrificed another clean sheet with the race for the title potentially hanging on goal difference – but another impressive attacking display by his side gives them good momentum as they head into the international break, and the final few games of the season.

The lineups

LIV: Laws, Koivisto, Fisk, Bonner, Clark, Parry, Nagano, Holland, Hobinger, Kiernan, Haug

MCI: Keating, Casparij, Kennedy, Greenwood, Aleixandri, Coombs, Hasegawa, Park, Fowler, Hemp, Shaw