Bristol City beat ten-player Reading in a terrific match at Ashton Gate on Monday night. Interim manager Matt Beard pumped his fists in delight after watching Ebony Salmon’s 76th minute winner propel the Vixens above his old club West Ham in the WSL league standings. Reading had led early through Emma Harries. Charlie Wellings levelled and Jemma Purfield edged the hosts in front after the break. Rachel Rowe thundered in an equalizer, but Salmon had the last say, six minutes later. Rowe was sent off in stoppage time.
Bristol City 3-2 Reading
“It was a rollercoaster. The biggest thing that has pleased me is that we have gone behind, we’ve got level and gone in front, been pegged back again and then found the winner and seen out the game. They’re one on the best groups I have worked with in terms of their togetherness. If we are to stay in this division it’s not going to be about technical ability, it’s going to be about their mentality. Tonight, we showed everything, commitment, heart and desire.”Matt Beard, Interim Manager, Bristol City, via bcfc.co.uk
Reading arrived on the back of a four-match unbeaten run which included victory over Manchester United.
Fara Williams would get her first minutes since week 12 and manager Kelly Chambers went with a very attacking 4-4-2, recalling Lauren Bruton in midfield and Emma Harries, who started up top with Dan Carter. Attacking Welsh winger Natasha Harding shifted to right back.
Hosts Bristol City were enjoying their best run of form since the campaign began with a wins and a draw in their previous three.
Loanee Keira Skeels had to make way as she was unable to play her parent club. Laura Rafferty came in at the heart of the defence. Aimee Palmer replaced Jas Matthew in the ‘holding’ midfield role and Matt Beard swapped Faye Bryson in for Flo Allen at right back.
The Vixens have been playing their home games at Twerton Park this season and it wouldn’t be unfair to say that they’ve gifted a fair number of soft goals there – and been on the end of some sorry results.
Moving this match to Ashton Gate, then, would surely be a welcome change of scene to eliminate the silly errors.
Yet, they couldn’t have made a worse start.
Rowe’s ball in behind the City defence on 13 minutes was looking straightforward enough for Purfield to defend but Yana Daniels and keeper Sophie Baggaley both converged on the ball at the same time.
Purfield looked to clear, the ball hit Daniels, rebounded off Baggaley and broke to Harding, who had gambled on a mistake but surely not a cock-up of these epic proportions.
Harding fed Harries in the six-yard box and the young striker bundled in her first senior goal.
Reading looked to press home their early advantage. Mitchell’s cross from the left was neatly cushioned down by Harries into the path of Carter, who stole half a yard and brought a good save out of Baggaley low to her right.
But any thoughts that Bristol City could be about to implode again after conceding a poor first goal were premature. The Robins raised their levels and restored parity eleven minutes later.
Maybe Reading believed that Salmon wouldn’t present much of a threat outside the penalty box, so when she picked up the ball just inside their half and no one was within fifteen yards of her, the 20-year old had all the time to elegantly thread Wellings in on goal.
The attacking midfielder did her part, producing a confident left-foot finish that ‘nutmegged’ keeper Grace Moloney for good measure.
The Royals thought they’d re-taken the lead eight minutes before half time when Williams, Rowe and Harding combined to provide another close range shooting opportunity.
Harries couldn’t put away the first bite but Carter snapped up the scraps only to find out Referee’s Assistant Sian Massey had ruled it out for offside.
Both teams continued to push forward after the break.
Molly Pike, having a great loan spell with City, robbed Bruton and swept the ball out to Daniels on the left of the penalty area in the 54th minute. Daniels cut inside her marker and unleashed a crisp, low drive that Moloney turned around the post low to her left.
The hosts couldn’t capitalise from the subsequent corner, but did get their noses in front from a corner four minutes later – albeit indirectly.
Purfield swung in a low cross from the right for Daniels at the front post but she couldn’t get it under her spell.
Midfielder Angharad James looked like she would comfortably shepherd the ball away from danger but had it stolen off her toes by Pike. It broke to Rafferty, who laid up Purfield and the full-back didn’t need a written invitation, hammering a vicious, swirling drive past the keeper.
It was a decent strike, but Moloney would probably feel she should have done better, appearing to lose it in flight.
Now Reading needed to dig deep. And they did, equalising in the 73rd minute.
Substitute Amelie Eikeland found Williams in-field on the halfway line and the midfield clipped a sumptuous pass over the Vixens’ back line for Rowe who controlled the ball in stride and lashed it past Baggeley on the half volley.
But this latest version of Bristol City seems to be different. Not content with a draw and the game starting to stretch, they found a winner six minutes later in a quite wondrous moment of ‘anything you can do…’…
Pike gave the ball to substitute Abi Harrison out on the right and bombed on for the return. But Harrison – fully fifty yards from the Reading goal – went for a world-class assist instead, taking two defenders out of the game with a delicious diagonal that landed plumb in front of the onrushing Salmon.
Bristol’s number nine controlled it on the half-volley and, even though it hopped up a little higher than ideal, she kept her head and finished with a composed volley off the outside of her right boot.
Cue swathes of (awful) fake crowd noise in the background as the BT Sport commentator went to levels of ‘pitchiness’ that generally only bad X-Factor contestants achieve.
And the game was up for Reading. They were unable to muster another meaningful effort on goal as City looked to close up shop.
Rowe, who had played well to be fair, was sent off in the third minute of injury time for a clumsy, mistimed challenge borne more of desire to get back on terms than anything malicious or personal. It was a second yellow, so she should miss just the one match.
So, two wins in four and out of the relegation zone for the first time since about week two of the WSL season. Belief and togetherness is everything right now for Bristol City and these are the moments they have to hold on to, because they have Manchester City and Arsenal coming up in two of their next three league fixtures.
West Ham may have dropped below them, but the East Londoners still control their destiny with a game in hand.
The Robins should enjoy this one, though. Every match is a cup final when you’re at the bottom of the table, the cliché goes. How wonderfully quirky, then, that Bristol City’s next match is literally a Cup Final; the Continental Tyres League Cup Final on Sunday versus Chelsea at Vicarage Road.
“The performance simply wasn’t there. It’s the performance that I’m not happy with. We knew what Bristol’s threats were going into the game and for some reason, we just didn’t do what we were supposed to, and it cost us the game. I know I get a reaction from the team following a loss. I always do. But we can’t keep doing this and having a reaction; we have to have consistency with these games.”Kelly Chambers, Manager, Reading, via readingfc.co.uk
For Reading, well they’ve been here before. Get a result against a big club, throw points away against one of the teams lower down. And it’s not like they didn’t know what they were coming up against. Bristol City foraged just their second point of the campaign at Reading back in December.
They entertain a Tottenham side Wednesday week that is on a four-match losing run. They’re unlikely to approach them lightly after this defeat. Nobody wants to become the opponent that everyone gets their season back on track against…
Last year, we charted on the Feedspot Top 40 list of Women’s football blogs. No one was more surprised than us here at D2B Towers; there’s so much other good stuff out there. Anyhoo, check out the link above or our Links page, there’s a heap of great blogs and websites written by people who really know their stuff and have an infectious passion for the women’s game…