On the first day of the Northern 2A 2017-18 season, UoM faced the visiting Liverpool John Moores at a wet and windy Armitage.
With the rain temporarily halting, the game got underway and Liverpool were the side who started strongest. Lining up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, Liverpool hoped to get in behind the back four of Manchester and were routinely looking for space in the channels.
It was the away side that registered the first attempted goal, a looping effort that went over the bar. Liverpool were enjoying more of the possession but were looking unable to create anything with it, while Manchester were dangerous on the counter.
After absorbing the Liverpool pressure well, Manchester looked to spring a quick counterattack with Daisy Stewart managing to break clear, but her shot was wide of the post.
Despite Liverpool’s retention of the ball in the opening stages, it was Manchester who had the better chances. Stewart’s wide effort was followed by a blocked shot as the hosts looked to get ahead.
These efforts resulted in corners and UoM were finding some joy in these set plays. Aiming for captain Megan Clarkson resulted in a chance for Liv Abbott as Clarkson managed to head the ball towards goal, but Abbott was just unable to reach it before the keeper smothered it.
The first half progressed and the possession stats equalled out as UoM shook off any pre-season lag. They grew into the game and were creating more chances than the visitors. The corner count was rising as they continued to look for Clarkson but a well-timed tackle from Evie Foster stopped a dangerous Liverpool counterattack.
With 26 minutes on the clock, the away side registered their first shot on goal. It was a tame effort that was easily saved, but the away manager was pleased with the build-up play.
Back at the other end, UoM were inches away from being awarded a penalty. The foul was deemed to be just outside of the box and Stewart stepped up. Her effort hit hard but the power on the ball caused it to rise up and over the bar.
The half-hour mark passed and the Liverpool manager decided to swap his wingers in the hope of getting more joy. This was not to be though, as the sides ended the first half level.
The opening of the second half was markedly different for the hosts as they started on the front foot. With more dynamism to their play, they were looking to hurt Liverpool, and four minutes after the restart they got the game’s opening goal.
A beautifully weighted diagonal pass met the run of Elise Scalding who proceeded to calmly take the ball around the keeper and slot the ball into the empty net. It was a goal that UoM deserved in the opening periods of the second half.
A minute later, Manchester had a good chance to double their lead. The ball fell kindly to Stewart who found herself inside the Liverpool box but after controlling the bouncing ball well, she fired the shot over the bar.
After 15 minutes of Manchester being on top, Liverpool clawed their way back into it. The game passed the 65-minute mark with it once again being an even contest between the two sides despite Manchester’s goal advantage.
With it being the first game of the season, there was understandably some fatigue in the players of both sides.
Searching for that two-goal safety cushion, Clarkson looked to find Ester Guerzoni with a great lobbed pass but Guerzoni couldn’t make anything of it.
If Manchester were to get their second goal it was looking like it would come through the work of Guerzoni. A last-ditch tackle was required to stop a counterattack from her and after a questionable offside decision, the referee deemed Guerzoni’s attempt to be a miss rather than a save despite the Liverpool keeper clearly palming the ball away.
With 80 minutes on the clock, Liverpool got their equaliser. A corner not being cleared properly resulted in a goalmouth scramble and number 38 of Liverpool managed to prod the ball into the net to tie the game at 1-1.
The Liverpool pressure was building as they decided whether to go for the win or stick with the one point they had.
Their pushing forward resulted in a very soft penalty going their way. More a tangle of legs than a foul but the referee, after much dubitation, pointed to the spot. Liverpool’s number ten set the ball down but saw her effort saved. A centrally hit low effort was grasped by keeper Caroline Strasenburgh as she saved her side from going 2-1 down.
The full time was drawing nearer but there was just time for UoM to be victims to a cruel slice of luck. A tame effort deflected off Katie Newton on its way to the net. The original effort was going to the bottom right of the goal but the deflection saw it change path to the bottom left and resulted in Strasenburgh being completely wrong-footed.
The goal was almost the last touch of the game, and UoM can count themselves hard done by with a 2-1 defeat.
After the game team captain Megan Clarkson said: “It was a difficult one as it was the first game back from summer. Standard wise, I think we’re up to it. It’s just getting to know each other as a team, knowing how each other play. That’s going to take time obviously.”
When asked about the difficult start, Clarkson explained it, saying “it was the first 10, 20 minutes that was really difficult. Just getting on our feet because a lot of the girls, as I said, haven’t played football with each other. It’s just figuring out how each other play and that came quite quickly I thought. Towards the end of the game, fatigue kicked in more than anything else.”
Despite the late defeat, Clarkson was keen to focus on the positives “I wanted to cry, it was really upsetting, but you learn from it. You don’t focus too much on the negatives, just on what you need to improve.”