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Emma Lipman reflected on her Leeds United side's late comeback from two goals down to beat Charlton Athletic 3-2 in the Premier League Cup and paid tribute to their team spirit.
Leeds are now into the semi finals for the fourth time in seven years and Emma told Women's Soccer Scene: "Sunday was a massive result for us, one that I think highlights how far we have come as a squad over the last couple of seasons.
"Obviously beforehand with a semi final place at stake, we knew it was going to be a tough game and credit to Charlton they pressed us high up the pitch early on. The poor conditions didn't help with our usual style of football either but excuses aside I don't think anyone of us were expecting the poor first half performance we displayed. So to come out in the second half fall a further goal behind, yet still manage to claw our way back in to the game and end up eventual winners is a true testament to the girls.
"The character we showed is something I feel we've been lacking in previous seasons and it seems to be surfacing at just the right time."
Two Gemma Bryan goals had put Charlton in the driving seat but Emma revealed that she never lost hope of a fightback. "I always knew we would get back into it," she admitted. "Nobody purposely crosses that white line to play poorly as Burge [Andy Burgess] reminded us after the game and I trusted that there were big enough leaders on the field to grab hold of the game and take it Charlton. That's exactly what the skipper [Clare Sykes] did with a great individual goal to get us back into the game. From then on I had every confidence that our determination and fitness would shine through and get a result which it did."
Was the fightback a typical example of the spirit at the club? "I definitely think so," replies Emma. "We have had a testing few weeks as a squad with players moving on and limited training due to the weather but for me what remains a constant, and has done throughout the season, is the team spirit. Wearing the shirt with passion and pride is something which the coaching staff reinforce week in week out. We have a great group of girls who believe that this season truly could be something special and games like Sunday is further evidence of this."
It was Emma herself who popped up with the winning goal with six minutes left and left no doubt as to her overriding emotion: "Relief, obviously to have turned the game around after such a poor start but for me personally, over the last couple of weeks, I have been in the banter firing line from the girls and coaching staff for some horrendous misses in games and training. So to finally put the ball in the back of the net under the circumstances was just a fantastic feeling, one shared by all involved."
Leeds have now battled through two difficult ties in successive rounds, having beaten Yeovil Town 1-0 previously, and Emma admits that the feeling is now growing amongst the players that this could be their year. "We take each game as it comes but the feeling is there for sure," she says. "We are fully aware of the quality which runs throughout the squad and that, combined with the gritty performances we have shown of late, makes us a difficult opponent for anyone. How successful we are in the remainder of the competition is ultimately in our own hands, as cliché as it may sound we are fully aware that on our day we can beat anyone."
And for Leeds there is also extra determination to go one better after losing in the Final last year. "Of course last year was extremely disappointing, we didn't perform anywhere near our potential," admits Emma. "For the girls and coaching staff who were involved I think it definitely acts as an additional incentive. However on a whole, like I said before, we have been encouraged to take one game at a time, we have a semi final to win first before we look any further ahead."
Next up for Leeds is a vital clash this Sunday against league leaders Sunderland. "We are very confident, we have no reason not to be," says Emma. "Sunderland come to our ground as Champions and with that they have the added pressure of playing up to that title. Without a doubt we are fully aware of the quality that Sunderland possess but we fear no one. It is games like these which you want to be involved in. For me it's a no brainer, the amount of time, effort and commitment you put in to training, travelling and game preparation boils down to be the best that you can be on occasions like these. It will be a great game for the neutral, that's for sure.
"There is still a long way to go and anything could happen between now and the end of the season. Without a doubt they will be important games but they mean nothing if we go and get a poor result elsewhere. So as we have done all season, we will continue to focus on what we can control and (not for the first time) take it one game at a time!"
(Photo - Stephen Gaunt)
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