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Lancaster University Women’s football team lost 2-1 to Salford in a highly competitive league encounter. In a game of few clear-cut chances, the pressure that Salford were able to apply with their powerful and direct style, eventually wore down a dogged Lancaster side.
Lancaster started brightly, and the close control and vision of Caroline Murphy shone through as she was able to hold the ball up well and bring her teammates into play. Both sides looked composed in possession, although Lancaster moved the ball around with pace; a quality sorely lacking in the men’s team this season.
Most of the play was confined to the central third of the field and there were few chances as a result. The first opening came Salford’s way, as a dangerous right-wing cross forced Katie McTague to collect well at her near post. With so few chances it looked as if a moment of inspiration would be needed to open the scoring. In fact it was a horror show from the Salford keeper, whose miss-kick fell invitingly for Emma Leahey; the striker calmly slotting from ten yards out to give Lancaster the lead with 14 minutes played.
This goal seemed to spark Salford into action, as they pinned Lancaster back inside their own half for several minutes. The wind was playing a vital role, as McTague struggled to gain enough distance from her goal kicks. Disciplined tracking by Holly Butler and Vicky Micheli prevented Salford’s midfield runners from attacking the Lancaster back four and when they were breached; Helen Lloyd did superbly to thwart their progress.
It reflects well on the determination of Nat Bird, Amy Beresford, Claire Vincent and Lloyd that Salford were restricted to efforts from distance. The first, a well executed lob from Salford’s right-back was scrambled off the line and this was followed by a miss-hit cross from the left-wing that clipped the Lancaster bar.
Lancaster went into the break with their perilous 1-0 lead intact. This was despite Salford dominating possession and creating the clearer of the chances. In response, Claire Smallwood was introduced in an effort to get in behind the Salford defence with her pace.
In a mirror image of the first half, Lancaster started strongly and could have extended their lead on 49 minutes. A lung-bursting run from Claire Vincent left Salford trailing in her wake before just failing to pick out Murphy with a probing through ball.
This was to prove crucial as Salford retook the initiative with some forceful midfield running which stretched the home side to breaking point. In a mad five minute period, Lancaster conceded two goals to throw away their hard earned advantage. Firstly, a left-wing cross was half volleyed home by Salford’s right-winger and then the same player crashed home her second after a break down the right to change the complexion of the tie with 35 minutes remaining.
Lancaster responded with a period of sustained possession, although they were unable to threaten the Salford goal. Industrious play from Sarah Williamson and Kayleigh Toft ensured that Lancaster remained competitive throughout.
Although Lancaster never looked likely to score, they may consider themselves unlucky to be playing against 11 opposition players. Salford’s well built central midfielder was fortunate to escape punishment after going in with studs showing on two occasions; and then Williamson was felled by the right-back when clean through only for the referee to keep his cards in his pocket.
Inevitably, as Lancaster pushed for an equalizer Salford looked dangerous on the break. On 77 minutes McTague was called into action, palming away a point-blank effort to deny the Salford winger a hattrick. As the clock ticked down, Lancaster looked increasingly desperate and their last chance arrived in bizarre fashion. Salford were penalised for a back pass which gave Lancaster an indirect free-kick just 8 yards out. However, as is often the case the wall blocked with ease and Lancaster were left frustrated at the final whistle.
On reflection Lancaster will consider their failure to prevent Salford crossing into dangerous areas a major reason for the defeat. It was also noticeable that the long-passes aimed in the direction of substitute Smallwood were often over-hit through to the opposition keeper. The result leaves Lancaster in mid-table with three league games left to play; Salford sit in second, but they are unable to catch runaway leaders and Champions elect Manchester Met.