In this monthly column for Since 71, I look back at another busy month of fixtures & news for Bristol City.
We Need To Talk About Rachel
As mentioned at the very end of my January 2023 round-up, the club confirmed on Friday February 3rd that Rachel Furness had joined until the end of the season having left Liverpool by mutual consent earlier that week. First broken by Tom Garry at The Telegraph, the signing was somewhat of a massive surprise for fans; most likely because of its timing & taking place after the transfer window closed on 31 January. Having made 64 appearances & scored 19 goals for Liverpool since she moved from Reading in 2019, Northern Ireland’s all-time top goal scorer brings a new level of experience to the squad. Having won the Barclays Women’s Championship last season with her former club (ironically when they came to Ashton Gate), it seems that the 34-year-old wants to repeat that feat in the West country.
Blackburn Rovers (A): Sunday 5th February
The Furness confirmation broke while I was driving up to Lancashire on that Friday, so that made me happy after such a long drive. And having attended Bristol City men’s winner against Preston North End men at Deepdale on the Saturday, I headed down to Bamber Bridge for the first time on the Sunday to see if the same result could take place against Blackburn Rovers. Coming across other supporters who also made the trip to both games, I was given various recommendations of local delicacies to try out – however I opted for chips & gravy instead of the butter pie. Now onto the football…
Furness was available for selection & started on the bench, where Maddi Wilde & Gracie Pearse were dropped to. Ffion Morgan also appeared as a substitute, having been out with injury for some time. Grace Clinton travelled up with the squad but was ruled out having picked up an ankle issue in the last game against Oxford United. The pitch at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium wasn’t in the best condition, and it was a very tough start for both teams. Following from an Aimee Palmer free kick in the 13th minute, it was headed clear for Emily Syme to pass to Vicky Bruce, who would turn & shoot only for Alexandra Brooks to save. Several minutes later, a long cross from Ella Powell reached Brooks, but she punched the ball only for Shania Hayles to head it back onto the post. Brooks would punch the ball up once again following a Jodie Hutton free kick later on in the first half. The first 45 minutes ended with a great opportunity for Rovers to take the lead, with Lia Cataldo throwing herself into the defence to stop Saffron Jordan’s shot, leading to a pause in play. Unfortunately, this resulted in her being subbed off for Gracie Pearse at half time.
The second half saw more competitiveness from City & some chances for Chloe Bull, with a header that went over the bar as well as a half-volley that went wide. Bull was then replaced by Furness, making her debut on the 74th minute. Impressive in the midfield, one funny moment was when she kicked the ball up in the air only for it to fly into my Bristol City flag that was hung up on netting behind the dugouts. If you watch it back on the FA Player (or the clip I posted on my Twitter), you can just about hear someone say “Boing” as it happens. The home side could have won it when Natasha Fenton played an excellent ball through to Jordan but her shot hit the post. In a rare stalemate for City, Fran Bentley’s former side would have been pleased with that result. At the same time, the gap between first & second place had extended to three points following London City Lionesses’ 3-1 win hosting Sunderland. Speaking of the Pride…
London City Lionesses (H): Wednesday 8th February
At last, the top two sides in the Championship met for the first time this season. This was the rescheduled match which was postponed on Sunday 22nd January due to frozen portions of the pitch at the Robins High Performance Centre. With a recent cold weather blip in Bristol, there were concerns from fans of yet another postponement – however the match went ahead with no extra pitch inspections needed. With the original fixture due to be livestreamed on The FA Player, the commitment was still honoured & fans in attendance & those watching would be in for a real humdinger.
Lauren Smith opted for two changes in the starting line-up. Chloe Bull & Jodie Hutton were replaced by Gracie Pearse & Grace Clinton, returning from injury. From the get go, myself & other fans could definitely tell that London City were the best team in the league to have visited the RHPC this season. The players were really in sync with each other & gave City a real contest & battle in intensity. Shania Hayles had a chance at goal in the 17th minute, working space in the area before seeing a shot saved by Shae Yanez. Just minutes later Jamie-Lee Napier tested Fran Bentley in the City goal with a header from close range, but it was saved. On the 30th minute Sarah Ewens let fly from distance but Bentley was on hand to tip round the post as the ball looked destined for the top right-hand corner. Hayles would begin the scoring on the 38th minute as she chased down Palmer’s through ball, beat her defender and slotting past Yanez comfortably. But in a lively end to the first half, the visitors equalised through former Bristol City player Lily Agg, whose looping header from Shanade Hopcroft’s free-kick found the back of the net just five minutes later.
The second half saw Lia Cataldo once again be replaced, this time by Ffion Morgan. A reoccurrence of an issue from the previous game had returned, with Cataldo picking up an undisclosed injury that would keep her out for the rest of the month. Attempts from Abi Harrison & Karin Muya were made for their respective teams, but City got their lead back after an Aimee Palmer corner kick was kept out by Yanez, only for Clinton to head in the rebound. Scenes of celebration would appear again a few minutes later when Harrison’s cross from the right landed for Morgan to give City’s third goal – and I actually ran the length of the RHPC stand & back again. Not my usual celebration, but this wasn’t any ordinary win. Rachel Furness made her home debut on the 68th minute & had two efforts narrowly miss the target, however the rest of the half saw London City come back into it & have further attempts – but it was up to Fran Bentley who made superb saves. The final result was an impressive 3-1 win, and such a significant moment in the season. The 726 fans in attendance revelled in the victory, with Abi Harrison even going on request to play from the drum that is played in the stand! Both teams will meet again in yet another rearranged fixture on Sunday 19th March.
Lewes (H): Sunday 12th February
Although having played each other in the Conti Cup group back in January, this was the teams’ first league meeting of the season. The away game in November was postponed due to torrential rain, with it being rescheduled for Wednesday 1st March. Jodie Hutton, Ffion Morgan & Rachel Furness returned to the starting line-up, with Furney making her first start & going on to play the full 90 minutes. The first half was an even contest with a feisty midfield battle that saw Aimee Palmer & Furness in the thick of the action, plus both sides defending the other’s attacks.
Following a goalless first half, City came out firing in the second half with Hutton shooting on the turn and the ball being tipped over by Sophie Whitehouse – making her return to Bristol since leaving for Lewes in the summer. In the 51st minute, a counter attack saw Morgan fly down the right before delivering a perfect cross for Emily Syme to head home at the back post. Several minutes later, Emily Kraft broke into the area after hauling Naomi Layzell down, but the referee waved play on and Fran Bentley was forced into a smart save before Vicky Bruce blocked on the follow-up. Shania Hayles was replaced by Grace Clinton on the 62nd minute, before Ffion Morgan & Jodie Hutton were switched for Mari Ward & Ella Powell respectively several minutes later. A shot by Furness would inadvertently bounce off her teammate to land into Harrison to have a go herself, but Whitehouse made another superb save. On the 86th minute Furness would then provide an assist, at the same time that Clinton appeared to have been fouled but the referee played the advantage. Harrison would latch it onto a through ball and loft it over Whitehouse from 25-yards with a first-time finish. The game ended with some mystique following an incident with Whitehouse & Clinton, however it may have appeared that there was no injury, nor did it look like Whitehouse was grabbing the ball off Clinton. Some boos & confusion may have rung around, but the score finished 2-0, leaving City at the 30 point mark. This would be the last league game before the international break, with the next one being…Lewes away on Wednesday 1st March! Most of the 525 fans in attendance would have been impressed with Whitehouse’s performance throughout the match, easily showing why she deserves to play week in week out – something she was unable to do during her time in Bristol.
The International Break…and the International Kit Supplier
February saw the first international break of 2023, with Abi Harrison being called up for Scotland; and Liv Clark & Ella Powell for Wales. Ffion Morgan missed out due to her recent injury, and Chloe Bull was not called up having not had as much gametime. Shania Hayles was called up to replace Khadija “Bunny” Shaw for Jamaica’s Cup of Nations squad travelling to Australia, however she would be replaced herself as a precaution following a muscle strain.
In the Pinatar Cup, Harrison came on as a 59th-minute substitute as Scotland fell to defeat against eventual winners Iceland. Harrison would also appear as a substitute in a 2-1 victory over the Philippines, before then being named in the starting XI for the final outing in the Pinatar Cup as Scotland played out a 1-1 draw with Wales. Wales kicked off their Pinatar Cup campaign with a 1-0 victory over the Philippines, with Ella Powell not included in the matchday squad & Liv Clark an unused substitute. Both Clark & Powell were unused substitutes in a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Iceland before Clark played 90 minutes in the final outing of the competition against Scotland. Not often you get Bristol City teammates face each other when representing their countries.
Tianna Teisar scored the winner for Wales U19s as they beat Portugal 1-0 in a mini-tournament the Algarve. Following a heavy loss to Poland, Teisar would end up on the scoresheet again following a win over Iceland. Naomi Layzell & Elysia Boddy featured for England U19s in a defeat to Germany & a win over Switzerland. Goalkeeper Erin Foley earned a first call-up to the U18s for their meeting with Republic of Ireland U19s, playing the second half & keeping a clean sheet. Mari Ward linked up with the U17s for a double-header with the USA at St. George’s Park.
International football did come to Bristol in the final fixtures of the Arnold Clark Cup, with Korea Republic taking on Italy before England took on Belgium at Ashton Gate on Wednesday 22nd February. Former Bristol City player Julie Biesmans scored an unfortunate own goal in the latter fixture. But perhaps the international player to make the most impact without kicking a ball would be Chloe Mustaki. The Republic of Ireland international has been out with a groin issue, but did a voiceover for Bristol City’s video reveal of their new kit supplier, which premiered on Friday 24th February. With Hummel’s UK licensee Elite Sports Group going into administration, the club announced that their 2023/24 kit has been brought forward & is now made by Ireland-based O’Neills. Promotional photography followed with Lia Cataldo modelling the home shirt, and Fran Bentley modelling both goalkeeping kits. It was announced that the men’s team would debut the kit that weekend, with the women & academy teams following suit soon after.
Manchester City (H): Sunday 26th February (FA Cup fifth round)
Bristol City’s last game of the month was in cup action to WSL high-flyers Manchester City. With the two teams having played a Conti Cup quarter final in January that was moved to Ashton Gate, this FA Cup fifth round fixture remained at the Robins High Performance Centre. Easily the biggest game to take place there since the team moved back to Bristol last season, the atmosphere was one for the ages. A new crowd attendance of 1223 was set, with fans standing around the pitch once all the seats had been taken. For some, this was the chance to see world-class players & some Lionesses up close. For others, this was the chance to enjoy a second food van at the ground – one that served an item missing from the existing vendor: chips. If you’re a regular at the RHPC, you’ll know what I’m referring to…
Lauren Smith made some particular calls for the starting line-up. The Manchester United loanee Grace Clinton came into the side to lead the line, while Jesse Woolley, Jazz Bull & Ella Powell also came into the starting line-up. Having been an unused substitute for Liverpool’s loss to Chelsea in the previous round, Rachel Furness was not cup-tied & also started to make her debut in the competition this season. Vicky Bruce & Jodie Hutton were dropped to the bench, while regular forwards Abi Harrison & Shania Hayles were also named as substitutes. In her pre-match interview, Smith said this was to consider the fact that this was the first fixture out of three within a week.
Much like in the previous fixture in January, Gareth Taylor put out a relatively strong squad. The former Bristol Rovers men’s player from nearby Weston-super-Mare included in his side England internationals Sandy MacIver, Alex Greenwood, Laura Coombs, Chloe Kelly, former Bristol City academy player Lauren Hemp & captain Steph Houghton. Australian internationals Alanna Kennedy & Hayley Raso; who scored twice when these two teams met; were not featured, however Mary Fowler did feature as a substitute.
The team in red & white made a bright and energetic start in front of the buzzing crowd, putting together some good passing moves but they could not quite break down the visitors. The one-on-one challenges between Lauren Hemp & Ffion Morgan were back & forth but kept the home crowd entertained. However, after 13 minutes the Cityzens would be 1-0 up when Kelly drilled a precise pass into Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, who spun past Naomi Layzell and shot low into the bottom left corner past Fran Bentley.
On the 25th minute mark, Shaw would get her second into the bottom left corner following an assist from Coombs. Kelly tried her luck from distance on the 31st minute but Bentley was able to save comfortably. Shortly after, Bristol City then had some moments of their own, with Layzell making a big tackle on the edge of the area before Gracie Pearse made a block with her head. Captain Aimee Palmer’s free-kick just evaded Woolley & Furness at the back post. Shortly after 40 minutes, Shaw got her hat trick after meeting Leila Ouahabi’s cross at the near post and flicking it over Bentley, hitting the top right corner of the net this time.
Just before half-time, Kelly drilled a cross from the right which was intercepted by Furness, only for it to land to Filippa Angeldahl who fired the ball into the top-left of the corner. For a game that realistically most Bristol City fans would not expect their team to win, being down by 4-0 at half time was of concern.
Half-time substitutions were made, with Hayles & Harrison coming on for Woolley & Palmer respectively. These substitutions were tactical, however, the captain coming off so early was a surprise. For the team in blue & maroon, Coombs & Kelly were replaced by Fowler & Julie Blakstad.
Hayles & Harrison’s impact was felt immediately, with the Scotland international lofting a ball in the area towards Jazz Bull but she couldn’t quite get her volley on target. In the 53rd minute, Bentley made an excellent save from Hemp’s running attempt, only for Blakstad to score from the rebound.
Two minutes later, an Abi Harrison free kick was headed in by Pearse to give her second ever senior goal; and her first for Bristol City. This loud consolation would be the first Bristol City goal scored against Manchester City since Alex Greenwood scored an own goal in the Conti Cup quarter final in January 2022. However, the last Bristol City player to score a goal against Manchester City would be Ebony Salmon back in November 2020 – with that game finishing with the same score that would happen here. Some substitutions followed with Chloe Bull & Maddi Wilde coming on for Furness & Morgan respectively, as well as Alex Greenwood being replaced by Demi Stokes who got her first minutes of 2023 after her recent injury. On the 75th minute, Shaw’s dominant power saw her score a fourth when she collected Deyna Castellano’s chipped pass and drilled the ball across goal into the bottom corner.
The only goalscorer from the Conti Cup quarter final to score in this game was giving Bristol City a nightmare once again. Afterwards, Hemp came off for 17-year-old Jemima Dahou & Clinton was replaced by Mari Ward. On the 83rd minute, Mary Fowler pounced on a loose ball passing to Blakstad who would get her brace.
And in a cruel way to end the second half just like the first, another goal was conceded as Shaw provided the assist with a backheel for Dahou to score her first senior goal. With no stoppage time, it ended at full time 8-1, with a performance that for the most part did not feel like it had that scoreline. Bristol City only had two shots with one of target and had 25% of the possession. Smith would go on to say in her post-match interview that her players forced Man City to attempt to find different ways around them, but then they were successful in that on numerous occasions. On the ten year anniversary of last reaching the FA Cup final as Bristol Academy, Bristol City bow out of the competition. Man City’s reward for reaching the quarter finals would be an away trip to WSL side Aston Villa.
With the focus now being solely on the league & promotion, City have a busy March to look forward to. They begin the month on the road, with a rescheduled trip to Lewes on Wednesday 1st March then facing Crystal Palace at Hayes Lane on Sunday 5th March. The only home fixture is on Sunday 12th March when Durham are the visitors, before another crucial meeting with London City Lionesses in the rescheduled away fixture on Sunday 19th March. The final fixture in March sees City travel down to Southampton on Sunday 26th March, as part of Women’s Football Weekend.