Jodie Brett opened the scoring for the visitors early on, in what was a dominant first-half display.
20 minutes after the break, Rinsola Babajide grabbed the equaliser for Millwall only for Claire Emslie to score the winner for Bristol mere minutes later.
Vixens pick up where they left off
Millwall started well but seemed nervous, their passing rushed but it didn’t take long for Bristol to warm into the game and some smart passing between Chloe Arthur, Flo Allen and Claire Emslie saw the first real opportunity fall to the Vixens.
With the flag up, Millwall debutant keeper Grace Taylor pulled off a fine double save to deny the visitors, even though it wouldn’t have counted. The away team began to amp up the pressure, as Olivia Fergusson slipped between the two centre backs and firing ferocious effort that cannoned off of the top of the crossbar.
It was frenzied last-ditch stuff from Millwall to keep Bristol out, and red shirts streamed forward with the hosts looking rocky at the back.
Unsurprisingly the opening goal didn’t take long to arrive, Arthur was making life hell for the defence and once again spun into the box and flashed a dangerous ball across Taylor’s goal. With Fergusson missing her kick the ball dropped to an advancing Emslie to lash towards goal for Jodie Brett to get the last touch before the ball settled in the back of the net. It was early days in the match but the two teams a class apart.
Millwall’s attacks were infrequent and often looked unbalanced, Lucy Loomes - the lone striker- was forced to lead the charge as her team mates defended in numbers. The best chance came through Loomes 20 minutes in, the attacker used a burst of pace to get in front of Grace McCatty and onto a hopeful ball. But instead of cutting inside the former Bee took the ball wide and made the save far easier for an untroubled Caitlin Leach.
With Millwall falling into a better rhythm and looking decidedly stronger at the back, Taylor was called into action once again to parry a vicious Charlie Estcourt effort from outside the box. Even with the Lionesses more settled they continued to look like an established WSL 2 team against a side recently relegated from the top flight. The difference in ability and confidence was palpable.
Lionesses begin to roar
Although Bristol hit the ground running and dominated throughout the first-half, the hosts should have been happy enough to get in at half-time just one goal down. With positives to take from a performance that improved at the game went on.
For all their improvements, Millwall could do little about the standard that Bristol were playing at and were once again penned into their own half from the restart. The Vixens continued to threaten Taylor’s goal, Fiona Allen going closest as she rattled the underside of the bar from distance.
However, Millwall, possibly bolstered but the efforts of woodwork at the Den continued to counter, the away defence looked a little thin as first Loomes broke through – only to lose the ball in the box as McCatty refused to let her wiggle away. Then by Ashlee Hicks who carried the ball through spurned on by the home defence, tried her arm from just outside the box with Ladd closing her down, Leach was forced into good save to put the ball behind for a corner.
With introduction of Rinsola Babajide to help Loomes out up top, new boss Lee Burch was making a statement – and a gamble. But the substitution immediately paid off as Babajide latched onto a long ball before getting in a tangle with both Hayley Ladd and Leach. With Ladd on the deck and Leach behind her all Babajide had to do was stay on her feet and roll the ball into the gaping net.
The response from Bristol was swift, the goal stirring them up and urging them to attack with vigour and were behind for less than three minutes. With the space opening up in front of her, Emslie unleashed a sublime effort from twenty yards out, her shot arrowed into the bottom corner past a diving Taylor, the fire lit under the Vixens as the game began to open up.
Frantic final twenty minutes
With the game stretched, Bristol looked to add to their tally and Millwall were hungry for an equaliser, the ball travelled from one end of the pitch to the other and back again. Spaces opened up for both attacks as the two sides breathlessly drove forward gasping for goals.
An injury to Allen gave both sides a much-needed breather but they continued to press each other into the last ten minutes before Bristol seemed content to hold onto their lone goal advantage. Millwall’s final chance in the dying moments came as Babajide and Looms looked to link again, but the former’s ball into the box was cut out by Megan Alexander before it could reach its’ intended target.
Back to the top for Bristol
Bristol have once again leapfrogged Yeovil, after a Saturday night win with the Lady Glovers due to play tomorrow. Just like their win over the London Bees last weekend Bristol started quickly, took an early lead and didn’t quite have a response as their opponents settled into the game. Once more Bristol spurned chances to strengthen their lead and even put the game to bed in the first-half, the Vixens once more walk away with the win to keep them on target for promotion but there are still questions to be answered.
In the opening twenty minutes Bristol didn’t just look dangerous, but downright deadly. Willie Kirk’s team play at a very high standard, clearly one of the fittest sides in the second tier, when they’re on the ball any team in the league would struggle to nick possession. They’re strong, quick and determined, but the win wasn’t as comfortable as it should have been.
For the neutral spectator the match was fantastic value for money, the second-half was thoroughly enjoyable but enough to give any Bristol fan a mild heart attack.
Millwall showing positive signs
The match was a bit of a slow-burner for Millwall, they began to improve twenty minutes in, looked revitalised in the second-half and easily could have found a second equaliser in the last twenty minutes. Whether it was a rousing half-time team-talk from their new manager, a jolt of collective self-belief, or a delayed effect from some porridge, the Lionesses completely turned themselves around.
In the first twenty minutes they looked off the pace, nervous, lacking match-sharpness; simply like they didn’t even belong in WSL 2. But they grew and found an admirable performance, matching their opposition for periods of the second-half and giving them plenty to worry about. They proved what they’re capable of and with the standard in WSL 2 rising all the time, Millwall will have to find a way to tap into that kind of performance every match and for the full 90 minutes.