Goals from Millie Farrow either side of half time were enough to seal all three points for Bristol City in a commanding home performance against Aston Villa.
Villa started the game brightly, on the front foot from the outset, with Bristol having to camp in front of Caitlin Leach’s box to shield her from the full force of their opponents' attack. But the Vixens held firm. The visitors had the ball, but the hosts were happy to get behind it.
Bethan Merrick was the first from either side to try her arm. A quick throw had led to a switch of the play out to Merrick’s right hand side of the pitch, and she dashed into the box but could only fire wide when she was one-on-one with Leach.
Everything happening in midfield, but it was all the Villans; probing, looking for an opening, repeatedly coming up against a firm Hayley Ladd – wearing the armband and leading her team superbly. The skipper produced a superb block after Merrick had wrong-footed Ellie Wilson; the tricky attacker repeatedly drifting away from her marker, always in space on the right when Villa switched the play, and always found expertly by Sarah Mayling.
Half way through the first half Bristol switched on and, suddenly powered up by an invisible plug, they looked brighter in attack, more useful, more awake and alert.
Farrow was making runs through the middle, trying to work space, giving her team mates an option. Rosella Ayane and former-Villan Olivia Fergusson started to exploit the width of the pitch around her, with the front three moving forward to put the visiting defence under pressure. However, it was a slow start, the players brushing rust off of their joints, stretching and growing into the game.
Chloe Arthur broke down the wing and sent a cross in for a lurking Farrow, and while Jade Richards was covering the danger this time, it was suddenly all Bristol. A free-kick delivered into the box fell to Farrow as another chance came her way and, after freeing herself and firing at goal, she was only denied by a fantastic save from Jess Myers who clawed it away.
More positive build-up play from the Vixens saw Farrow, Tatiana Pinto and Fergusson linking passes, carving a route through, but they couldn't create much as Villa stood firm. Bristol themselves were firm at the other end too; Maddy Cusack leading the charge for the visitors but unable to muster anything up, hauled to the ground by Pinto on her most promising run.
A slice of luck to break the stalemate
As the clock ticked into the 30th minute, Bristol found a goal that seemed unlikely just ten minutes before.
Arthur danced through the park and played a through-ball towards the running Farrow and then the luck came; Richards reached the ball seconds before the striker and tried to clear it but could only kick it against Farrow. The ball cannoned off of her shin and looped over Myers before settling in the back of the net.
It was a fortunate goal that the striker was more than happy to claim while Villa, who’d been seeing less of the ball, were suddenly a goal down and had no obvious way back into the match.
There was a nod to the frustrations of the visiting Villans as Mollie Rouse went into the book for a bad challenge in front of the Bristol box. The away side were enjoying a short spell with the ball, trying to fashion an opening in the box, but were unable to find the key to get behind Ladd and co.
The last few minutes of the first half saw the game open up once again. Farrow and Pinto exchanged passes but the former lost possession and gave Villa a chance to counter. The visitors, however, were unable to break down the home defence and the ball was quickly back down the other end, but opportunities were not arising.
Katie Wilkinson latched onto a pass and drove a low shot at Leach in the last action of the half, before Merrick's corner was blown onto the top of the crossbar by a gust of wind.
Farrow makes it two
Bristol came out of the second half all guns blazing and immediately put the pressure on Villa, but could not find space to get a shot off at any point.
However, when Farrow burst through one-on-one with Meyers, Richards dived in and took out the Chelsea loanee to give Bristol a penalty that could seal the three points - even at 48 minutes. Farrow dusted herself off and sent Meyers right as her spot-kick went low and central, the net budging once again.
It was nearly three shortly after for Bristol and their scorer alike, but Farrow's shot fell just wide of the goal after taking a big deflection off of Georgia Evans.
Villa had nothing to lose now and had a good chance as they ramped up the pressure, but Mayling's cross could not be attacked by Rouse due to Leach's brave intervention.
Instead, the visitors would start to lose focus in the last 20 minutes, allowing Ayane to carve the midfield and defence apart. She took on N’Dow before rolling the ball to Arthur, who drove a low shot at Myers, but the 'keeper got down well to make the save.
The brightest moment of the second half from the Villans came from some head-tennis at a corner, with the ball finally coming out to Mayling just outside of the box. However her perfectly weighted volley, dipping just under the bar, was brilliantly saved by Leach late in the game.
Into stoppage time there was one last chance for the visitors with Wilkinson running at the defence. The ball was cleared but it ricocheted off the player, forcing Leach into one final extemporary save to keep her clean sheet intact as she made herself big to smother the goal-bound effort.
Victory comes to those who take their chances
Aston Villa, just like their last opponents Sheffield FC, paid the price for not making their early dominance count. The visitors called Leach into action in both halves but didn’t take their chances when they came, whereas Bristol did.
Once they got going Bristol were much the better team. Sometimes you need that touch of luck to help you along the way, but there were no arguments over the deserved winners. The win takes them to top spot in WSL 2, above Durham; the Wildcats with a game in hand.