End to end and back again
The game started at an awkward pace, both teams to assert themselves early on but both still shrugging off of the rust of the August break, Villa wanting to use the width on the left and the Bees on the right, the pitch congesting on the nearside. Beth Merrick and Natasha Baptiste both tried their arms from outside the box but failed to trouble Bethan Davies before Jo Wilson pounced on a bad touch from Hannah George to try to catch Grace Moloney out from a tight angle.
As the game wore on the two continued in the same fashion, back-to-back and end-to-end, openly attacking each other, sustained pressure in the Villa box was followed by Sarah Mayling unleashing a looping effort that cleared the bar.
Once again the Bees attacked and Villa countered right back, Baptiste caught the defence napping but her first touch took it away from her. The visitors were once again ruing missed chance when they failed to capitalise on a poor Davies clearance at a corner. It was then the Bees who were left frustrated after failing to convert, after a smart one-two with Nikki Watts, Wilson broke through and dragged her shot wide with only Moloney to beat.
Attack is the best form of attack
After an almighty coming together in the box between Elisha N’Dow, Moloney and Wilson the ball dropped to Evie Clarke but with white shirts closing around her, the Arsenal loanee opted to square the ball but could only find open space.
Villa came right back at the Bees, peppering the box as orange shirt made a string on blocks as the visitors pressed. Once again one team countered on the other, again a Bees attacker slipped unmarked between the centre-backs, Clarke’s driving run saw her reach the ball ahead defenders and keeper to roll the ball into the waiting net.
Five minutes before half-time Merrick almost restored parity at another counterattack, her deflected shot slipped inches wide before Jade Richards volleyed the resulting corner against the side-netting. Set-pieces seemed to be the key for the visitors as George nodded a Merrick free kick on but the ball rolled into Davies’ open arms.
Villa started the second-half with real intent, pressing the hosts from the off and it wasn’t long until they were spurning another glorious opportunity. Mayling beat the offside trap to get goal-side but could only power her shot against the upright when she was one-on-one with Davies. With the Bees still stuck in the dressing room, Villa continued to dominate play, spending more and more time in the attacking half.
Another set-piece provided another chance for the visitors, but Baptiste could only watch her header slip around the post following a well delivered ball from Merrick. Richards was the next to see her header glance wide at a set play as the Bees struggled to get out of their own half. Villa attacked the sleepy hosts in waves, white shirts swarming forward, twenty minutes after the restart at the Bees still hadn’t found their rhythm.
Just as the visitors had done, the hosts were left frustrated at a missed chance as Emma Beckett turned her header just wide. With time ticking down, more and more white shirts found their way forward, Richards searing run halted by a meaty tackle in the box.
As it looked like the equaliser was just around the corner as well put together move by Clarke and Wilson bought some much needed space in the attacking third. The one-two rounded off by Wilson as she planted the ball past Moloney into the bottom corner. The goal was a timely one and completely against the run of play, Villa thoroughly in their element in the second-half but with nothing to show for it.
After 90 solid minutes, Villa finally had something to cheer about as the ball fell to Merrick in space on the right of the box, the captain’s first touch a deft one to get comfortable before launching a perfect chip to loop the ball over Davies and drop just under the bar. With just stoppage time left, the last seconds were frantic but ticked away too quickly for Villa to carry their impetus into another goal.
Missed chances and dropped points
Villa, who came into this came with half an eye on a promotion spot, will be left frustrated, toe-to-toe with the Bees in the first-half and much the better side in the second, could take nothing from their dominance nor their chances. Though carrying a real threat throughout the 90, Merrick’s late goal was nothing but a conciliation on a trying trip to the capital. Hard-working throughout Joe Hunt will be pleased with the performance from his side but just like his players, left to rue missed chances.
Although fully in the game during the first-half the Bees once again came undone after the break, still left sat in the changing room as their opposition ran amok after the interval – a familiar theme with the London team. Out-played in the second-half, the defence stood resolute, Beckett and Cooper back to their sparkling best but Clarke and Wilson left to chase shadows higher up the pitch.
Even when playing their better football in the first-half, the hosts continued to rush their approach, running forward and dispatching the ball without even a glance into the box to see if they even had back-up. A lack of thought and communication stunting their progress, again, a familiar theme. The second goal the exception, Wilson and Clarke in full understanding, looking for each other and working as one.