ColumnMatt Beard: Sunderland win was our best performance of the season
In his latest column, Liverpool FC Women manager Matt Beard reflects on Saturday’s 3-1 win at Sunderland that saw the Reds go four points clear at the top of the FA Women’s Championship.
I was absolutely delighted with our performance on Saturday night. It was our best performance of the season and I thought we were consistent within our performance level throughout, and we also had a ruthless side to us.
Obviously we were disappointed to concede the opening goal from a set-piece. But beyond that, their goalkeeper made three very good saves in the first half alone and again in the second half, and we also hit the woodwork three times. The scoreline could have been a lot greater than what it says, but the pleasing thing was from start to finish it was a dominant performance.
In midweek we took our foot off the gas, even though we beat Blackburn Rovers in the Continental Cup. We nearly got punished in the end but on Saturday we showed a great sign in the way we responded to going a goal down and we continued to do what we have been doing.
There were so many positives we can take from it. That was our most clinical performance of the season.
We caused them a lot of problems with our set-pieces and our analyst Jordan Kevan deserves a lot of credit for that. Jordan and Pottsy [Joe Potts, goalkeeping coach] work really hard on our set-pieces for and against, and we are really pleased with the rewards we are now getting from that.
It was so pleasing to see Yana Daniels and Melissa Lawley get their first goals of the season for us and I was delighted for them. Leanne Kiernan is scoring consistently for us now and is doing really well. Yana is a threat – she is great in the air. And Mel deserved that goal, what a great finish it was.
I said to Mel at half-time that she would get her goal tonight. What I liked about the goal was the way she slowed the defender down and shifted the ball and then it was a great finish. It was very clever and you could see from her face when she scored how much that meant to her. Mel has been really good for us this season and that goal will settle her down now and allow her to continue what she’s been doing for us.
With the weekend results we are four points clear at the top of the FA Women’s Championship, which is a pleasing position to be in. We have worked hard to get there. We are 12 games unbeaten in all competitions and we have been working really hard on the training ground.
This was a really tough month for us. We had Sheffield United away in the cup, Blackburn Rovers at home, Durham away and Sunderland away. We have done a lot of travelling in the past three weeks for starters and you add to that 12 players played two games for their international teams. In a five-week period some of these girls have played so much football.
I said all along we were going to rotate the squad for the Continental Cup games because the league is our priority. The great thing for me is when we have rotated, players have come in and done really well.
You look at Carla Humphrey’s performance midweek against Blackburn when she was outstanding. You watch Carla in training now and it’s the player that I worked with at Bristol City. It has taken her time to settle and adjust but it’s great to see her playing the football I know she is capable of playing. Everyone is motivated because we have given all of our squad minutes and they have all stepped up to the plate.
We like playing away from home because teams will have a go at us more when they are at their place and it means we can play a little bit differently to what we would do at home. It’s been a fascinating month and we’ve had to show so many different sides to the way that we can play. Everything I’ve asked of the players they have done.
I have to say Ceri Holland’s performance for us in midfield at Sunderland on Saturday was her best display of the season so far for me. She was absolutely outstanding and she deserves a mention.
We go into another international break now and we only have one league game remaining now in 2021 when we host Charlton Athletic at Prenton Park on Sunday December 19 – which seems quite a while away now! We have two cup games when we go to Sunderland away just before that in the Continental Cup and we will have an FA Cup tie too. Once we play Charlton that will be the halfway point in the season for us.
If you look at how the league is shaping up, I think Crystal Palace and Bristol City have both put a really good run together, and Durham and London City Lionesses lost at the weekend. The great thing for us is we’ve got strength in depth in this squad and you need that. It means I can rotate and keep everybody fit and ready. Unfortunately, Leanne Kiernan won’t be going away with Ireland because she’s got a slight hamstring tightness, so we’ve got to be careful and protect her.
On the positive side on the injury front, we had Charlotte Wardlaw back with us on Saturday and it’s great to see Megan Campbell back training with us. Our sports therapist Chris Underwood has done an unbelievable job with Megan, along with Hina Chauhan and the medical team.
Megan has worked incredibly hard. I was desperately disappointed for her when she picked up the injury in pre-season. It was a tackle that shouldn’t have happened in a pre-season friendly but she has shown great professionalism. She has got her head down and worked incredibly hard every single day, and she is a month ahead of schedule because of that. Hopefully, we can get Megan potentially available for our matchday squad now for our final games of the year. This will be like a new signing for us and we are really excited to get Megan back.
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I want to say congratulations to the Scouser in our team Missy Bo Kearns, who led the team out as captain against Blackburn Rovers in the Continental Cup. It was interesting how that came about actually with our psychologist Dr Francesca Champ.
We didn’t have Niamh Fahey or Rachel Furness starting the game – our captain and vice-captain or Jasmine Matthews. We had a good group discussion and everyone had an input into making that decision.
I love Missy Bo because to me she epitomises Liverpool FC. She goes to all the men's first-team games when we are not in action and she just loves her football. She knows the game and I looked at it and thought, ‘How can I challenge her and continue to develop her?’
If I look at her progress as a footballer from when we first came to where she is now, there is a massive difference in the way she performs. I remember giving Gemma Bonner an opportunity to captain the Liverpool team when she was younger. I had players like Fara Williams, Natasha Dowie and Whitney Engen and for me it’s about leading by example when you are out on that pitch and the way you conduct yourself day in, day out.
Missy Bo has got so many qualities that I saw in Gemma as a young player. The fact she is a local girl and came through our youth system, I wanted to give her that responsibility and I wanted to help her understand what it takes to be captain of Liverpool.
I said after the Blackburn game, 100 per cent in the future she will be Liverpool’s captain for many years to come, for sure. She is Liverpool through and through and she loves this club. I just can’t wait to see her kick on for the rest of the season and beyond. She absolutely deserved the armband.
I also want to send all our best wishes to our assistant manager Paul McHugh. Paul’s dad sadly passed away just after our game away at Durham and everyone is thinking of Macca. He came to the hotel to see all of the staff and players in Sunderland on Friday, which was great.
It was great to see him but we just want to wish him and his family all the best. We can’t wait to have him back on the training ground with us, but we just want to send all our condolences from me, the team and the club.
Thanks for your support as always.