Birmingham City Ladies were in action
Blues Ladies lost the chance to top the WSL table with only two games remaining on Sunday at the hands of Liverpool, and a huge slice of luck provided by referee Stuart Richardson.
Following Chelsea`s defeat at Notts County the night before, both sides knew victory would see them right back in the race for the WSL title. Blues were without midfielder Jade Moore for the match, with Emily Simpkins replacing her, and playing on the right of midfield of a 4-4-1-1 system, with Karen Carney supporting lone striker Kirsty Linnett.
The opening twenty minutes of the match was an even affair, with Blues conjuring up the best chances, predominantly down the right hand side with Simpkins and Linnett. Liverpool`s back three were struggling to follow the runs of the young striker, and Simpkins was the first to benefit, but her weak shot was blocked. Linnett broke the offside trap on numerous occasions, but couldn`t find the final pass to make the breakthrough.
A short corner routine led to Jo Potter whipping a dangerous cross into the front post, but Linnett`s header went wide. As the half wore on, the current WSL champions took a hold of the game and grew stronger and, just before the half hour mark, took the lead. Amanda Da Costa had fired a shot over the bar minutes earlier, but could not miss from inside the area following a long goalmouth scramble that Blues could not get clear, eventually Natasha Dowie getting the important touch to leave Da Costa the simple task of firing the Reds ahead.
The remainder of the half followed that pattern, Liverpool dictating possession, with Blues struggling to make an impact on the game, being outnumbered in midfield and finding it very difficult to break through a resolute Liverpool back line.
The second half began much of the same, midfielder Katrin firing a powerful drive just over Becky Spencer`s goal, and Fara Williams controlling the play from her deep midfield role. Simpkins was replaced on the hour mark by Emily Westwood, who moved into central midfield with Potter and Remi Allen, allowing Carney and Mel Lawley more freedom to support Linnett up front, which seemed to put Liverpool off their stride slightly.
Blues forced a number of set pieces, one of which led to Jo Potter drilling an effort over the bar from the edge of the area, but keeper Libby Stout was looking commanding in the Reds goal. Stout had to make a smart save when a cross fell to Lawley inside the area, and the winger did well to turn the ball goalwards, but the American stopper gathered the ball well.
With only six minutes remaining, Blues made their second change of the match, Hannah Keryakoplis came on to replace the hard working Linnett, and she could not have made a more impressive impact three minutes from the end. Lawley`s long ball over the top towards Westwood was met by Stout outside her area, but her attempted clearance only fell to the knee of the Welsh striker, whose first touch and finish from nigh on 45 yards was tremendous, and sent the Autotech Stadium into raptures, especially the home bench.
At that point I`m convinced Blues would have settled down and taken a draw from the game, knowing how important it was not to lose to a rival for not only the title, but also a top two Champions League place, but the referee was to have the final say.
As Blues began to return to their positions (Spencer nowhere near her goal and certainly not ready for kick off), Williams took matters into her own hands and, after Da Costa`s touch, struck a perfect shot over Spencer and into the net.
Liverpool celebrated like they had won the title, while Blues were remonstrating with the referee, convinced the goal should not have stood as there was no whistle from the man in the middle to restart play. Consequently David Parker has admitted that the ref admitted to him after the game that he did not blow to allow Liverpool to kick off.
In accordance with Law 8: The Start and Restart of Play, to restart the game following a goal, THE REFEREE GIVES A SIGNAL, which does not say anything about blowing the whistle, but in conjuncture with the FIFA rules of Referee Signals the Whistle is needed to restart play after a goal, so clearly the goal should not have stood. Liverpool saw out the remainder of the match and took all three hugely valuable points, and threw the title race wide open.
With only two games remaining, Blues lie third in the table on 21 points, Liverpool second on 22 and Chelsea remain top on 23. Clearly Chelsea are still favourites, knowing two wins will see them lift their first ever WSL trophy, and they host relegation threatened Everton before ending their season away to Manchester City.
Should they drop points in one of those games, and Liverpool win their remaining fixtures (Arsenal away and Bristol Academy home), then they will retain their trophy. Blues will be needing two wins from Man City away and Notts County at home, along with both Chelsea and Liverpool dropping points somewhere. I believe their best chance is if Arsenal, who have found form at the back end of the season, can prevent Liverpool from winning, and Chelsea are held away at City, who have already beaten the Londoners in the Continental Cup semi-final this year.
With so much at stake in these last two games, nothing can be taken for granted, but Blues` push for the title has been hugely derailed by refereeing decisions over the last few games, but until it is mathematically impossible for them to win it, the girls will fight tooth and nail to prove the doubters wrong and earn their second silverware of Parker`s reign.
Blues: Spencer, Weston, Mannion, Harrop, Carter, Simpkins (Westwood 61), Allen, Potter, Lawley, Carney (c), Linnett (Keryakoplis 84). Subs Not Used: Baggaley, Sargeant, Torkildsen, Stringer
Liverpool: Stout, Bonner (c), Easton, Schroder, Bronze, Harris (Hodson 84), Williams, Katrin, Da Costa (Zelam 77), Longhurst (Davison 60), Dowie. Subs Not Used: Gibbons, Frausing Pedersen
Referee: Stuart Richardson
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