When a collective of disgruntled merchants decided to build the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894, and in doing so compete with the the city of Liverpool, they could not have known that the rivalry would last 124 years. Of course, it is in the symbolic world of sport that such inter-city beefs are most felt, and rarely have the two met in a more important occasion than that which defined them on Wednesday afternoon at the Armitage Centre.
Liverpool, sitting pretty in first place, needed a win to seal the Northern 2A title and promotion to the first division. Manchester, in misleadingly reassuring third place (in a six-team table) had to win to guarantee survival.
Any onlookers arriving two minutes late would have assumed they were witnessing a particularly good pre-match warm-up, but in fact Manchester had taken the lead within a minute after kick-off. Olivia Abbott, who all afternoon exuded calm and class in a trequartista role, jinked past Daisy Purcell at left-back to deliver a cross that looped over Liverpool ‘keeper Hannah O’Sullivan, tucking itself into the net off of the far post.
Often an early goal can produce a tedious game, but not so this time. Manchester defended confidently, the full-backs Leah Winstanley and Evie Foster moving the ball out onto the wing, and dominated the early stages. Nevertheless, it was the leaders who struck next, Kiah Collins’s shot rebounding off Eza Doortmont in goal to leave Olivia Askam with an easy finish.
But that was as good as it got for the Scouse, who were unable to thread one through defence for a second time, the pinball of balls on shins inevitably being scooped up by Smith and redistributed to the wing. It was from Abbott again drifting out right that produced the third goal, crossed low and bobbling, Beth Enderwick getting just enough on it to inch it over the line.
As a boy, I was self-conscious about taking photos of the women’s football team on my phone, so was delighted to discover that a camera crew was already in attendance, filming for a programme disconcertingly catch-all titled The Football Show. If they remembered to remove the cap off the lens they will have plenty of excellent goalmouth scramble footage to sift through, but presumably over the final credits will roll Grace Cunliffe’s fantastic curler into the top right-hand corner, the stand-out moment of the match leaving the score Manchester 3-1 Liverpool at half-time.
The wind grew unbearable in the second half, and truth be told so did the game. Manchester were content to sit on their two-goal lead in difficult conditions, where Liverpool seemed resigned to defeat. A couple of stoppages for pains and strains broke up the rhythm. In such circumstances it is no surprise Liverpool began to deploy the long swirling ball, and from time a ball kicked out from goal reached Collins, but she was unable to beat the excellent Doortmont in a one-on-one.
The whistle blew not long after with the score still at 3-1 to Manchester. The result means another year’s Northern 2A football to look forward to. Obviously I’ll have moved back down South by then, mind. Elsewhere in the league, Manchester Metropolitan beat the University of Central Lancashire 4-2 at home and Liverpool John Moores triumphed 6-2 at Chester. In all likelihood Manchester will finish the season in third place, and one wonders what giddy heights they might have reached had they not lost their opening four.