Liverpool women fans in the stands at Prenton Park

Echoes of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ rang out from a corner of the Emirates Stadium on the opening day of the 2023/24 Women’s Super League season.

The Liverpool faithful who’d made the long trip down to North London couldn’t quite believe what had just happened; their team had earned three points to start the WSL, and taken a 1-0 victory against Arsenal in the process.

The game set out the season to come, highs and lows heading to Matt Beard and Liverpool FC as the renewed squad began to truly establish themselves back into the top flight of women’s football.

The first disappointment came only two weeks after, on a cold October afternoon.

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Having started the season with a bang, two wins of two, and welcoming a fresh, young squad eager to impress, almost 23,000 Reds donned their hats and scarves and made their way to the ultimate stage: Anfield, where a winless Everton side awaited them.

Liverpool had two tasks this game; three points, and show their blue rivals what colour Merseyside really is.

Watching the derby as a Liverpool fan was like falling back into the previous season; gone was the swift, quick passing they’d displayed in their first two matches, the team looked like shadows on the stage of their clubs beloved home and a free header from Megan Finnigan ended the team’s dream of an Anfield victory.

With many players still out with injury, the side lacked depth to make any subs that really shook the games flow and Liverpool’s wait for a derby win continued.

Rising stars and new faces settle in

However, as new signings settled into Liverpool life, the team continued to pick up points.

An unfortunate equaliser from West Ham saw the team finish the first month of the WSL with a total seven of the 12 points available.

Norwegian striker Sophie Roman Haug, having missed the first two games of the season after an injury sustained on international duty, opened her goal tally in a 1-1 draw away to Tottenham Hotspur.

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Boosting the squad further, Melissa Lawley returned from injury and grabbed the opening goal against Leicester City to send the team to a 2-1 victory.

Then, on a Wednesday evening at Prenton Park, Liverpool caught a glimpse of their future; 18-year-old Mia Enderby.

The youngster hadn’t seen much opportunity to shine since signing from Sheffield United over the summer, having broken into the starting 11 against Tottenham only to exit the field before half-time through injury.

Yet she showed the skill and composure of any established forward as she tipped the ball delightfully over the head of Manchester City’s captain Steph Houghton, before following the skill up with a cool finish into the corner to earn one back in a 3-4 loss.

Facing the giants

A trip to Stamford Bridge forced a cruel reality back to Matt Beard, who’d lost two games away at Chelsea last season; 2-1 in the league and then 3-2 in the FA Cup.

But there was an air of hope around the small away collective, after all their team had shown spirit to hold against Arsenal, surely, they could show that fight against the reigning champions.

A 5-1 loss accompanied them back to Merseyside.

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After producing such promising results against other top teams in the league and the Continental Cup, Liverpool had crumbled when faced with the English giants.

No time to dwell on the result however, a much different game awaited them at Prenton Park the following week.

Roman Haug, who had been looking to truly make her mark in the Women’s Super League involved herself in three goals during their dominant 4-0 victory against Brighton and Hove Albion – scoring one and assisting two.

The Reds season was back on track as players left for international duty.

Double derby day

Three weeks later Liverpool FC geared itself up for two of the most anticipated fixtures of the club’s season: double derby day.

Whilst thousands descended upon Anfield stadium with hopes of witnessing a replica of last season’s 7-0 Premier League victory over Manchester United, a small crowd of fans made the short journey over to Leigh Sports Village wishing for anything but last season’s result.

Though Liverpool Women had held Manchester United to 1-0 at home last season, the away fixture was certainly one to forget; a dreary January day kicking off the restart of the WSL had seen the title hopefuls put six past Matt Beard’s struggling side.

It looked to be a similar story this season, defensive errors from Liverpool allowed Ella Toone to put United ahead within just three minutes.

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Yet this time Liverpool didn’t look out of their depth.

They grew into the game confidently and their increasing pressure upon United was rewarded just past the halfway mark, when Mel Lawley’s cross connected with Millie Turner for an own goal.

The afternoon turned into a dream for the travelling Reds, when beloved vice-captain Taylor Hinds was granted her first Women’s Super League goal.

It wasn’t a screamer by any means, more a scramble in the box after another dangerous corner delivery from midfielder Marie Höbinger, but that didn’t matter – Liverpool led.

That goal turned into the difference between the two teams.

Matt Beard and his Reds headed into winter break with three points and high spirits after another surprising away victory.

Post-break challenges

Advancement in the Adobe Women’s FA Cup followed after the break; down to ten, Liverpool’s only goal came from Gemma Bonner.

1-0 against Bristol City was good enough, and they had a much bigger task waiting in the league; Manchester City.

Positives had come from their League Cup match in November; they’d managed to score three, albeit conceding four as well.

An upset against another ‘top four’ team seemed to be on the cards when a mix up at the back allowed Taylor Hinds to chip the ball cleanly over Khiara Keating and open the scoring.

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Just three minutes later however, a Bonner own goal meant City were equal.

As weather conditions worsened, so did Liverpool’s afternoon, Bunny Shaw claiming a WSL hattrick and a late penalty left the final score a miserable and all too familiar away result.

5-1 in Manchester.

What followed was another loss, 2-0 to Arsenal.

Though that could be considered a respectable score for a team who were enjoying only their second season back in the top flight of women’s football, the final whistle brought disappointment.

Another 1-1 draw with Tottenham meant Liverpool hadn’t won a league game since December, picking up only one of the nine points available to them.

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It wasn’t all bad, a second FA Cup win sent the team into a home quarter-final against Leicester City; and having been eliminated from the League Cup, this was Liverpool’s chance to gather excitement around their team.

A trip to Brighton came first however and while they didn’t manage to score four like they had in the home fixture, Liverpool got the job done, despite dropping to ten when Ceri Holland received her second yellow in stoppage time.

An emphatic 4-1 victory away to Aston Villa then granted the Reds their second double of the season; with defender Grace Fisk scoring her first for the club, alongside a goal for Sophie Roman Haug and a brace from Emma Koivisto.

But despite these victories, the atmosphere once again turned somber.

After finding their feet in the league, Liverpool had just bowed out of the FA Cup to a manager less Leicester City and the silence was deafening around the home stands of Prenton Park.

The lack of midfielders Nagano and Holland had left the Red defence exposed and with little outlet to service their front line – who had just one shot on target.

Season climax

Exiting the cup in horrible fashion, full focus for Matt Beard turned to the league – and the possibility of a 4th place finish.

A mixed bag of results followed; a 3-1 victory over West Ham, a stale draw at Goodison Park, a second heavy defeat to Manchester City, and a 1-0 win against Bristol.

Then came a game that those at Liverpool could have only dreamed of.

”Prenton Park erupted in joy…”

They boasted an opening day win against Chelsea last season; a shock 2-1 win at Prenton Park with all goals coming from penalties, yet back in November they’d suffered a significant defeat to the champions.

Emma Hayes and her side arrived at Prenton Park disappointed.

They had gone out of the Champions League in front of a sold-out Stamford Bridge the Saturday before, and the journey up to Merseyside from London on the evening of Wednesday 1 May, was made by few Chelsea fans.

Regardless, the reigning champions came out flying, catching Liverpool on a set piece at nine minutes when Aggie Beever-Jones rose highest to head her team in front.

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Matt Beard’s side settled nicely into the game despite the early disadvantage, and an energised Liverpool crowd cheering their team on as they knocked on the door heading into half-time.

The equaliser arrived at 50 minutes; Sophie Roman Haug – ever present in the aerial department – headed home a perfect delivery from Marie Höbinger.

It was a Höbinger corner that would put the Reds ahead for the first time, Gemma Bonner rising highest, with the final touch from Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert.

Beever-Jones proved key again, when a mistake from Teagan Micah left an open goal for the equaliser at 80 minutes.

A rollercoaster of emotions ensued as not a moment after the restart Ceri Holland threaded the perfect pass into Leanne Kiernan, who calmly slotted past Hannah Hampton.

Two minutes later and the game was once again tied when a Micah own goal levelled up the score once again.

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Prior to that night, Chelsea had only conceded two goals off of set pieces, yet as Marie Höbinger stepped up to take another Liverpool corner in stoppage time, something shifted.

Prenton Park erupted in joy when Gemma Bonner – their captain from the glory days – flicked the ball into the back of the net.

In that moment nothing else mattered to those cheering Liverpool fans; any thoughts of their clubs up and down WSL and Premier League seasons were replaced by utter joyful shock.

They’d beaten Chelsea.

A seven-goal thriller and they’d come out on top.

Those three points meant that, should they beat Manchester United in their final home game of the season, they could almost guarantee a 4th place finish.

Rounding off the campaign

That Sunday, a renewed Liverpool crowd piled into sunny Prenton Park for the final time.

It was written in the stars that defender Jenna Clark would get her first goal for the club, and Liverpool’s only of the game, meaning save for Teagan Micah, every summer signing had netted for the club.

The afternoon only soured once; when Matt Beard received a straight red card after making his frustrations known to an official when defender Koivisto suffered a hard challenge.

Three points clear and with the brag of a league double over Manchester United, a trip to the King Power to face Leicester City was all that remained of a dream season.

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It shaped up to be an amazing afternoon for the travelling Reds; a 4-0 victory and a hat trick for Leanne Kiernan was plenty to solidify their best WSL finish since 2017.

The already incredible season for Matt Beard was topped off with the manager of the season award.

Despite his side not ever being in the running for the title, his achievements in such a short space of time with the Liverpool squad didn’t go unrewarded.

After earning them their promotion in 2022, he’d secured a 7th place finish on 23 points the season after, and then an active summer window had allowed important signings to enter the club.

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His side climbed quickly to a confident 4th place on 41 points; completing four league doubles in the process; Brighton, Leicester, Aston Villa and, of course, Manchester United.

Topping it all off, they had key victories against highly respected WSL teams like Chelsea and Arsenal.

Next season the squad is expected to be strengthened further, the departures of at least four players opening up spots for new signings to showcase their talent.

Liverpool turned out as the surprise package of another exciting Women’s Super League season and with the club’s decisive move to the St Helens Totally Wicked Stadium, the future for women’s football at Liverpool FC is looking bright.

Featured image courtesy of Carys Wallace.