In a game full of bite and grit it was clinical finishing that was the difference between Bristol City and Brighton & Hove Albion. An early goal from Yana Daniels and a brace from Ebony Salmon set Bristol City on their way to a their first victory and kick-started their bid to avoid relegation.
Despite having the worst defensive record in the league and a truly poor goal difference, the Robbins put on a counter attacking masterclass to overcome their fellow strugglers. Happy to defend their early lead, the Robbins sat deep and soaked up constant Brighton pressure while looking a threat every time they ventured forward. Brighton pushed high, but rarely threatened and the game was effectively over when Kayleigh Green was sent off for violent conduct.
The victory leaves City just two points behind Aston Villa and West Ham United and just four points behind opponents Brighton who have now lost five FA Women's Super League matches in a row and are quickly being drawn into a relegation fight.
Story of the match
The home side made an explosive start, taking the lead in just the third minute from a wonder strike. Gemma Evans played a lovely pass into Yana Daniels who turned and struck a rocket from 25 yards which crashed in off the underside of the bar.
After taking such an early lead, the Robbins were happy to sit deep and play on the break. However, without being able to hold onto the ball City were inviting more and more pressure from Brighton. Maya Le Tissier had a free header from eight yards which she sent straight into the keeper and Ellie Brazil missed a brilliant chance following a cut back from Rianna Jarrett.
Bristol City were not creating much on the break, but in Ebony Salmon they possessed a brilliant counter-attacking threat, and it was the teenager who doubled City's lead just after half-an-hour. Once again it was a defender with the assist, as Jasmine Matthews played a lovely long ball into the channel which Salmon latched onto before coolly slotting home.
Brighton brought on a second striker in Lee Geum Min at half time and came out pressing aggressively high up the pitch. While creating a number of half chances it was Bristol City and Salmon who looked more like scoring as twice she beat her marker but missed the target.
It was a sign of things to come as City won a rather innocuous penalty when the ball flicked up onto the arm of Victoria Williams from a cross that was not threatening the Brighton goal. Salmon confidently stroked the ball into the top corner to make it three and all but guaranteed a first three points for her team.
Frustration was setting in for Brighton as the game was slipping away from them and things went from bad to worse as the visitors were reduced to ten players. Kayleigh Green lashed out off the ball and stamped on Daniels which led to her deservedly being shown red by referee Lucy Oliver.
With a number advantage City took charge of the match and were playing with much more confidence and swagger. Salmon nearly grabbed her hattrick as she met a corner at the back post only to hit the outside of the post.
At 3-0 down, Brighton continued to push forward and try to get a consolation goal, but put Bristol City's keeper Sophie Baggaley under any pressure. City were happy to sit on their lead saw out the match and earn not only their first win of the season but a much needed first clean sheet of the season as well.
While any of Bristol City's back four could have been the player of the match, the best player from start to finish had to be Ebony Salmon. In a first half where she was feeding on scrapes, Salmon constantly caused Williams and Le Tissier all kinds of problems. After scoring her goal she continued her brilliant work as a lone striker, holding up play and bringing in her teammates into play. She took five shots in the second half and if not for a terrible playing surface may well of grabbed her first senior hattrick.
If Bristol City can keep it tight at the back they can trouble anyone...
In Ebony Salmon, Bristol City have one of the best strikers in the league. She has scored half of their league goals and will trouble the best of defences in the league. Matt Beard will be delighted with his teams defensive performance after they were hammered 4-0 by Everton in their previous fixture and will be delighted with a win in his first match at home in charge of the Robbins. If City can sure up defensively and build on this performance they have the tools to survive relegation and stay in the WSL.
...Brighton toothless up front
While their defence has been hit hard through absences over the last few weeks, the real concern for Hope Powell will be how little threat her side carried in the final third. Until Green's sending off the Seagulls had most of the ball and spent much of the game in the City half. However, they had very little quality in the final third and the couple of occasions that they did create quality chances they had no killer instinct. Tactically Brighton can make themselves more resolute, but it is extremely difficult to coach an eye for goal in a team low on confidence.