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Liverpool 1 (Dowie 1) Lincoln Ladies 1 (Sweetman-Kirk 49)
Lincoln won 4-2 on penalties
Lincoln Ladies have reached their first ever major Cup Final after Karen Bardsley saved two penalties in a shootout to help her side overcome Liverpool in the semi finals of the Continental Cup.
Lincoln had been beaten semi finalists in each of the last two seasons and things were looking ominous with just 26 seconds on the clock when Natasha Dowie was put through on goal and she drove the ball home to give Liverpool an early lead.
Dowie was millimetres away from a second goal shortly afterwards as a low ball across goal by Louise Fors just eluded her in front of goal. Lincoln needed to weather the early Liverpool storm and almost got back on terms themselves after winning a corner, Casey Stoney's header being blocked on the line and Courtney Sweetman-Kirk drilling over on the turn.
Liverpool captain Gemma Bonner was forced off with a cut to her head and left the pitch to be patched up before returning to the centre of defence. Whilst she was off, Dowie drove a left foot shot just wide and Amanda Da Costa was also off target.
As the game entered injury time, the Reds nearly went two ahead as Nicole Rolser found space in the area and drove a shot which took a deflection and Bardsley did well to turn the ball over the bar.
Four minutes into the second half, Lincoln stunned the home side by levelling the scores. New signings Sweetman-Kirk and Aileen Whelan had been handed full debuts up front and each played their part in the equaliser, Whelan breaking into the area on the right and after her cross had not been held by Rachael Laws, Sweetman-Kirk was on hand to rifle the loose ball home from close range.
The game was almost turned completely on its head shortly afterwards when Remi Allen's pass put Whelan through on goal where she tried to steer her shot home but Laws thwarted her by blocking her shot with an outstretched leg.
Liverpool had been finding it hard to deal with a Lincoln side which had constantly shut them down quickly when in possession and harried them well but they began to dominate possession again and pressed strongly to regain their lead.
However they came up against a determined Lincoln rearguard which stubbornly refused to allow them in behind and made a number of important challenges, including two vital interceptions from the excellent Martha Harris.
When Liverpool did get efforts on goal, they found Bardsley in inspired form in goal and she pulled off a smart diving save from a snap shot by Dowie. She then made another save from a Fara Williams strike but this time with the aid of some good fortune, initially fumbling her England team mate's shot but the ball bounced back off the post and she gratefully grabbed the rebound.
Williams fired over and Fors had two long range efforts comfortably saved by Bardsley as Lincoln stood firm during late Liverpool pressure. Dowie was just unable to direct a Lucy Bronze cross goalwards and the game headed into extra time.
The pattern continued at the restart with Liverpool on the front foot but still finding it hard to penetrate the Lincoln back four. Rolser shot over and then Da Costa cut inside a challenge from Harris and drilled a shot which was blocked by the head of Stoney.
Lincoln had been restricted to counter attacks, most of which were halted by an offside flag, but the second period of extra time was a much more even affair. Laws needed to punch clear a free kick under pressure from Clarke and Sophie Bradley but chances were few at either end as penalties became more and more inevitable.
A half chance came the way of Dowie in the last minute but she was unable to generate enough power in her shot and the final whistle blew moments later.
Stoney found the top corner with the first kick for Lincoln, with Williams levelling next up. Allen sent Laws the wrong way but then Bardsley dived to her left to keep out Dowie's effort. Sophie Walton was next for Lincoln but dragged her shot wide, however Bardsley restored her side's advantage by saving from Fors.
Clarke ended the run of misses but only just, firing in her penalty via the underside of the bar, before Bonner kept her side's hopes alive by confidently finding the corner of the net but this gave Carla Cantrell the chance to clinch victory for Lincoln and she kept her nerve to drill her kick home.
The Lincoln players rushed to Bardsley in recognition of her saves while Liverpool looked shellshocked, unable to take in what had happened. Matt Beard's side therefore suffer the agony of semi final defeat for the second time this season but for Lincoln, the biggest day in their history awaits them with Arsenal or Everton as their opponents.
Liverpool: Rachael Laws, Lucy Bronze, Corina Schroder, Fara Williams, Gemma Bonner, Whitney Engen, Amanda Da Costa, Sarah Gregorius (sub Katrin Omarsdottir 64mins), Natasha Dowie, Louise Fors, Nicole Rolser. Subs not used: Sarah Quantrill, Becky Easton, Jess Holbrook, Katie Zelem, Sophia Riccio.
Lincoln Ladies: Karen Bardsley, Lara Fay, Martha Harris, Bonnie Horwood (sub Sophie Walton 70mins), Sophie Bradley, Casey Stoney, Meaghan Sargeant (sub Rachel Lee 84mins), Aileen Whelan, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk (sub Carla Cantrell 78mins), Remi Allen, Jess Clarke. Subs not used: Jules Draycott, Emily Roberts.
(top) Amanda Da Costa takes on Martha Harris and Rachel Lee
(middle) Aileen Whelan shields the ball from Corina Schroder
(bottom) Lincoln celebrate following their penalty shootout victory
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