It took the hosts just 49 seconds to create their first half chance, Demi Stokes found on the overlap by Toni Duggan as the defender whipped a low ball in, Kosovare Asllani’s need for a second touch giving the visitors time to clear. But it didn’t take long before the familiar Brondby attack was testing out the waters, Nanna Christiansen doing her best to occupy Steph Houghton as Stine Larsen found space out wide, the Danes calmly passing the ball around the attacking third as the hosts did their best to close down.
Not having had a huge amount of joy this season, with teams more than willing to sit back and absorb pressure the Citizens have found open football in Europe, and have enjoyed getting back to a passing game. The home fans incensed as the referee got caught up in play in front of the City box, waving play on as Louise Kristiansen played Christiansen in, Houghton’s well-timed meaty tackle enough to deny the attacker a chance to shoot.
The visitors more cautious and measured in their build-up, looking for a neat away through as City scythed through the away defence, yet with fifteen minutes played it was the team from Copenhagen that looked more like scoring. A sustained period of home pressure culminated with Duggan dragging a shot wide from outside the box, Brondby able to neutralise the home threat with neat little nicks and cute passes.
After the game had turned a little scrappy in midfield Lucy Bronze took the impetus, her searing run capped off with a low shot Katrine Abel did well to block with her feet. The resulting corner testing the keeper again as Jennifer Beattie’s overhead kick came down just under the crossbar, Abel with a fingertip to turn it around the post.
However, Brondby hit back and made their case of the opening goal, Christiansen and Larsen having joy against the defence as Katrine Veje and Theresa Nielsen joined the attack. A mix-up in the box granted Julie Trustrup a chance to get the ball out of her feet, taking a deflection on the way through Karen Bardsley was forced into her first save on the game as she parried the ball away from the far corner, Beattie and Bronze mopping up the clearance.
Winning a healthy amount of corners the hosts looked dangerous from the set pieces, whether with the height of Scott and Beattie, Duggan’s whipped delivery or Izzy Christiansen lurking just outside the box, her had the look of a team who were going to find a breakthrough from a dead-ball situation. The half wore on and even though the Citizens finished the team on top, asking more of the questions the Danes always seemed to have an answer.
The hosts took the momentum with them after the break, beginning to overrun the visitors, Leth Jens and Simone Boye worked decidedly more as Abel’s goal was under increasing pressure. With Jane Ross racing onto a long ball Abel made the ill-advised decision to sprint out of her box leaving nothing but space for Ross as she knocked the ball beyond the number one with ease, but one touch too it wide which gave Simone Boye time to get back and make a superb block to deflect the goal-bound shot out for a corner. The pressure from the hosts was enough to leave the visitors unseated in attack, the Danes looking nervous and out of ideas as they infrequently tried to go forward.
Well after the hour but still without the breakthrough the hosts continued to go close, but hesitation in the box was their undoing, with numbers forward no one was willing to seize the opportunity presented to them. One touch to many, or two seconds too long on the ball, City were striking the match but it was failing to ignite.
With the game desperate for a bit of magic Keira Walsh popped up and produced an absolute stunner like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat. With nothing but a sea of red and blue ahead of her the young midfielder ripped a sublime curler from over 25 yards, Abel let scrambling across her goal but nowhere near the bullet unleashed by Walsh.
The visitors responded well to going behind and were soon asking questions of Bardsley once more but the press was short lived, the hosts spurred on by their goal went hunting a second, the seconds fast running out as the game opened once more.
Bardsley with a superb save in the last minute of regular time to deny Veje a sensational goal, the curler just pushed clear plumb in the top corner, Brondby hungry for an away goal. Their efforts weary and in vein as Bardsley preserved her clean sheet, the result a fair one, the visitors stuggling after the break although Nick Cushing would want his side to have more of a cushion going into the second leg.