FA WSL 2016 - Mid-season review: Bristol City

It's been a topsy-turvy campaign for Bristol thus far.

FA WSL 2016 - Mid-season review: Bristol City
22 year-old Hayley Ladd has been commanding captain so far this season (Photo credit: Stephen Pond/Getty)

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Willie Kirk’s Bristol City so far this season as we take a look back at what has and hasn’t gone right for the recently relegated side.

From the heights of WSL 1 to WSL 2

From finishing second in 2013, the Vixens started to slip further and further down the pecking order, avoiding relegation in 2014 by a sizeable margin they still finished one from bottom. The west-country club were unable to halt their slide and finished a miserable 2015 WSL1 season with just two wins and two draws from fourteen matches, having conceded 38 goals in the process.

There were wholesales changes behind the scenes before Bristol Academy took to the pitch under the new moniker of Bristol City, a rename not all pre-existing fans favoured.

Injuries have blighted the Vixens this so far year, midfielders thrown both back and forward to cover for fallen teammates, just like with Doncaster, that lack of defensive nous has cost the west-country side at the back. For Bristol, one of the most important signings of the year came with Corinne Yorston resigning for the side after a spell at Yeovil Town, Yorston’s experience invaluable in an increasingly inexperienced squad. Unfortunately, Yorston is one of a number that have been side-lined this season, weakening the backline further.

Derby days

A definitive 7-1 win over WPL side QPR saw Bristol into the next round of the FA Cup when they hosted west-country and promotion rivals Yeovil Town, the Lady Glovers proved to be a stubborn opponent in the monsoon-like conditions and the tie was settled from the spot, Yeovil victorious.

Less than a month later the Vixens were welcoming Yeovil back to the Stoke Gifford stadium and were cruising at half-time two, goals to the good, even though Yeovil came out fighting in the second-half notching two of their own, it wasn’t enough and Bristol reaped the rewards. Three days later Bristol were back in action, squaring off against WSL newcomers, Sheffield and were held to a shock scoreless draw.

Next time Bristol were in action the following month they faced an equally resolute London Bees team who refused to be broken down in the first-half. With the deadlock finally broken after the hour mark the goals rained in for Bristol who were soon 3-0 up inside of ten minutes, although the Bees regained their composure it was too late for the London team to challenge the Vixens who took three points and one big boost back to Bristol. The wins didn’t stop for Bristol who easily registered back-to-back 2-0 wins over Aston Villa then Watford inside of four days.

With the Vixens rocketed to top spot they were sailing into the midseason break unbeaten and looking dangerous but their progress was suddenly halted as their record fell, two defeats in three days enough to drop them into fourth. The first loss of the season came at Huish Park, fittingly taking Bristol’s (90 minute) head-to-head record against Yeovil as one win, one loss and one draw each.

The Lady Glovers, having learnt their earlier lesson, flew out of the blocks at the start of the game and dictated play throughout, claiming a 2-0 win and bragging rights in the most recent Best in the West derby. It was another familiar opponent at the end of the week for Bristol as they travelled to Dronfield for their reverse fixture against Sheffield. Willie Kirk would have been looking for a positive result to go into the mid-season break with, especially after the loss against Yeovil but it wasn’t to be as the Vixens struggled against their fellow WSL2 new-comers and Sheffield ran out 3-1 winners.

Helen Bleazard and Olivia Fergusson battle to be the Best in the West (Photo credit: Ben Hoskins/Getty)
Helen Bleazard and Olivia Fergusson battle to be the Best in the West (Photo credit: Ben Hoskins/Getty)

All to play for

With 11 games still left, the season is far (far) from over for Bristol, teams will always drop points in a campaign, although unexpectedly dropping five points to Sheffield could ultimately be damaging for the Vixens it’s just too soon to see. Kirk has made a number of astute loan-signings from across both leagues, the players he’s brought in from the likes of Chelsea will always provide goals and maybe that’s the key this year.

Following the departure of Mary Earps to Reading, new signing Caitlin Leach has become the new number one at Bristol and has boasted four clean sheets in seven league starts. As long as the Vixens can keep finding the back of the net they should be assured a strong finish – although they will face two big games against promotion-chasing Everton later in the year.

But there are bigger questions to be answered by Bristol City, if they do achieve promotion, will they have any chance of being able to stay afloat in WSL 1?