Liverpool’s Leighanne Robe denied in thrilling WSL Merseyside derby draw

A Merseyside derby would not be a Merseyside derby without a touch of controversy and the first Women’s Super League edition to be held at Goodison Park did not disappoint. Liverpool wanted revenge for their 3-0 humbling by Everton earlier in the season and thought they had it when Leighanne Robe swept them ahead. The referee decreed otherwise, ensuring the outcome would be as fiercely contested as the occasion itself.

A Goodison record crowd of 22,161 showed up on a Friday night and were rewarded with a richly entertaining derby that could have swung either way. Everton led through their captain, Gabby George, before Liverpool striker Katie Stengel levelled shortly ahead of the interval.

Both sides had chances for victory in an open, frenetic second half. Both sides had goals disallowed – Robe controversially for Liverpool and Jess Park legitimately for Everton – while home goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan produced impressive late saves to preserve a point for Brian Sørensen’s side.

Matt Beard, his Liverpool counterpart, was rightly enthused by the strides his team have made since September’s reverse at Anfield but at a loss to explain referee Lauren Impey’s decision to disallow Robe’s goal for an apparent foul on the Everton keeper by Ceri Holland. “Crazy,” he called it. “It should not have been disallowed and on the chances we should have won the game. She has not impeded her and the goal should have stood 100%.”

Sørensen said: “I haven’t seen it again but they say she was stood in front of the goalkeeper and blocking her view. Their goal was a clear offside so maybe it is compensation.”

George provided the spark that the derby and the crowd needed on her 100th appearance in the WSL. The game laboured for 27 minutes with both teams adopting a safety-first approach and creating little until a patient Everton move produced an eye-catching breakthrough. Katrine Veje, the lively Park and Clare Wheeler combined to find their captain in space on the left.

George checked inside Robe as the Liverpool defender closed in and curled a powerful shot from a tight angle over goalkeeper Rachael Laws into the far, top corner. A mis-hit cross or a deliberate, stunning shot? Everton forward Katja Snoeijs had made a run to the near post in anticipation of the former but the power and trajectory of George’s effort favoured the latter. Either way, Laws was despondent at being caught out while the Everton players, bench and crowd celebrated the lead with unrestrained joy.

Gabby George (second left) celebrates after putting Everton in front.
Gabby George (second left) celebrates after putting Everton in front. Photograph: Tony McArdle/Everton FC/Getty Images

Everton almost doubled their advantage moments later only for Gemma Bonner to block Megan Finnigan’s goalbound drive in front of the line with Laws beaten. The breakthrough, and the let-off, served as a spark for Liverpool, too.

The most notable feature of their night before falling behind was Beard being interviewed by Sky when Everton were on the attack in the 20th minute. Try attempting that with the manager of Liverpool’s men’s team. Energy and adventure flowed through the visitors after George’s goal, however, and they seized control of the contest for the remainder of the first half.

An equaliser was coming and Brosnan was eventually beaten when Taylor Hinds’ shot was deflected into the path of Stengel. The American forward controlled sharply, sent two Everton defenders the wrong way and placed a measured finish inside the far corner.

Liverpool continued to threaten after Robe’s effort, from a well-worked corner routine, was harshly disallowed. Park was inches away from restoring Everton’s lead when launching herself at a Nicoline Sørensen cross. Her back-post header sailed just wide. The dangerous midfielder did beat Laws with an exquisite finish from 25 yards late on but the effort was correctly disallowed for a handball by Park in the buildup.

The second half flowed from end to end as the local rivals refused to settle for a point. Finnigan produced a superb block to deny Stengel after Liverpool substitute Shanice van de Sanden had escaped down the right. Brosnan made a vital intervention in stoppage time to prevent Stengel pouncing on Miri Taylor’s header across the goalmouth. The Everton keeper also denied Holland in the final seconds to ensure a share of the spoils.