In this new monthly column for Since 71, I look back at a busy month of fixtures & news for Bristol City, dominated by cup action.
Coventry United (H): Sunday 15th January
As the second half of the Barclays Women’s Championship season began, City faced off against the opponents they beat 1-0 on the first day of the season. The goal scorer from that particular game, Jesse Woolley was left out of the squad due to illness. When the squad was indeed announced, fan reaction contained some interest & confusion.
As exciting it was to see Spurs loanee Gracie Pearse & 17-year-old academy player Mari Ward go straight into the starting XI (Ward making her first ever start with the first team), there was just as much surprise with regular starters Ella Powell & Lia Cataldo being dropped to the bench. Maddi Wilde also started in the defence (as a possible replacement for the still injured Chloe Mustaki), and Manchester United loanee Grace Clinton was named on the bench. Coventry United’s much changed squad since starting the January transfer window included former Vixens Megan Alexander, Simran Jhamat & Leicester City loanee Ellen Jones.
The loyal home fans didn’t have to wait long for a goal, as following a defensive mix-up Shania Hayles was able to lift the ball up in the air for Chloe Bull to guide it in, getting her first goal of the season. There were other chances for City to get goals in the first half; however, Manchester City loanee goalkeeper Khiara Keating was able to save a one-on-one effort from Hayles, plus Mari Ward had an impressive dribbling run to be halted by Ebony Wiseman. Heading into half-time, could the 1-0 score match the previous meeting back in August? An enthralling second half prevented such a repeat.
A superb cross from Abi Harrison at the start met Chloe Bull in front of goal, but she was unable to get her second. Shortly afterwards, there was a set of double substitutions that would impact the game, with Emily Syme & Grace Clinton coming on for Jasmine Bull & Chloe Bull respectively. A few minutes later, Ellen Jones provided a low assist into the area for Birmingham City loanee Eleanor Ryan-Doyle to get her first goal for her new club.
On the 74th & 75th minutes Lauren Smith made three more substitutions, with Ella Powell; Jodie Hutton & Elysia Boddy coming on for Maddi Wilde; Vicky Bruce & Shania Hayles respectively. The second of those substitutions would come to be vital later on in stoppage game, added on from an incident before the 80th minute when it appeared for Clinton to have a shot in front of the goal, but had collided with Keating during her save. A pause in play followed & Clinton received a booking from referee Aaron Ford; with debate following since as to whether that challenge should have been a sending off instead.
Keating would do her best to continue the game but was eventually subbed off and replaced by Jodie Whiteman several minutes later. This had taken place after a comeback from the Red & Greens (playing in sky blue) when on the 82nd minute, Ryan-Doyle would turn provider for a charging Mary McAteer to take the ball out of Fran Bentley’s reach & for it to cross the line after knocking off the side of the goalpost. Was this to be the game Coventry would get their first points in the league this season? Momentum was indeed building for Coventry in the second half, combined with a difference in Bristol City’s performance after the key influence of Syme was no longer in the midfield, where she usually partners up with captain Aimee Palmer.
Speaking of which, Palmer took a free kick for Clinton to guide a header past Whiteman to get her first goal for Bristol City. This was in the third of the seven minutes added onto this game, and had put the home fans in loud celebrations. The City players didn’t do much of their own, as they quickly ran back to the centre of the pitch so the game could continue without any timewasting. Finally, on the 96th minute, a clearance from Coventry inadvertently landed in front of Jodie Hutton, who was able to direct the ball to Harrison who jumped up to land a header to seal the win. Scenes of limbs from the home fans at the RHPC coincided with heartbreak for Coventry who had the grasp of their first win taken away from them. A very entertaining game for the 603 in attendance to witness, with a win that Bristol City were somewhat lucky to get in the end, considering that they lost their initial lead; plus, the impact that Grace Clinton & Khiara Keating had on the game – would the outcome have been the same if one was sent off & the other remained didn’t need to be subbed off? As mentioned in episode 52 of Bristol City Vixencast, Coventry United now look like a team that will get points off teams this season, which they would do a week later in their following league game with another 3-2 result; this time they were the winners when they hosted Crystal Palace. And Mary McAteer was able to make her loan move from Aston Villa a permanent one later on in the month.
Lewes (A): Wednesday 18th January – (Conti Cup)
Three days after the great escape at home, Bristol City ventured out on the road for their final Conti Cup group game against Lewes. Due to take place on Sunday 18th December 2022, it was then moved to Friday 16th December to avoid a clash with the FIFA men’s World Cup final, before being postponed to a frozen pitch at the Dripping Pan – and also at the Robins High Performance Centre, where the game was moved to following a request to the FA, but since returned to its original venue. Thankfully, the FA Player still honoured its commitment to broadcast the game live, so those that couldn’t make the trip up on a Wednesday night could watch online with Michael McCann on commentary. And due to how Group D stood, Bristol City had to win the game within 90 minutes to qualify as group winners into the quarter-finals – a draw at full time then a penalty shoot-out win would not give them enough points in the table.
As stated by assistant head coach Jen Foster before kick-off, the game was a great opportunity for those coming into the side, but at the same time other players were rested following the physical toll & outcome from the previous game. As she has done in previous Conti Cup games, Liv Clark started in goal, while the back three was comprised of the returning Lia Cataldo, Naomi Layzell & Jodie Hutton, making a rare start. Ella Powell also returned to the starting XI as a right-wing back with Maddi Wilde at left wing-back. Aimee Palmer, Chloe Bull & Jasmine Bull started in midfield, with Jaz replacing Emily Syme. Meanwhile, Tianna Teisar & Lily Greenslade lead the line at the Dripping Pan, with regular forwards Abi Harrison & Shania Hayles rested altogether, along with Fran Bentley. Gracie Pearse was cup-tied having played for Tottenham Hotspur in the competition already. In total, 11 of the matchday 23 had come through the club’s Academy/Regional Talent Centre programmes – an impressive accolade.
The first half started well enough, with Powell’s brilliant cross unfortunately not reaching Greenslade in time to make a chance for goal. Jaz Bull was able to set up a run but her attempt easily saved by Emily Moore in goal (there would be no reunion with former City goalkeeper Sophie Whitehouse, who had left for Lewes last summer). Palmer would get booked on the 13th minute, and due to picking up a previous booking in the game against Crystal Palace way back on October 2nd, she would miss the next Conti Cup game. On the half-hour mark, Jodie Hutton’s corner swung past the Lewes defenders to land perfectly into the bottom left of the net, marking her first goal for the club. As I am writing this, I still don’t know if she meant it or not! Paula Howells & Emily Kraft had their own attempts for the Rooks, but Liv Clark was able to save them both.
The second half started with a triple substitution as Palmer, Powell & Cataldo were replaced by Grace Clinton, Elysia Boddy & Emily Syme respectively. Chances continued in a second half where Lewes weren’t able to take advantage of goal-wise, but did keep City at bay during this time. On the 75th minute, Clinton was booked after pulling back Rebecca McKenna outside the box. On the 86th minute, a run from Kraft was superbly stopped by Naomi Layzell. Play continued as the ball ended up with Amber-Keegan Stobbs before Clinton shoved her into the advertising boards. Already on a yellow, the referee Aaron Ford (the same official from the Coventry game three days before), got out the card again which then followed with a red. One goal plus three bookings & one sending off – I could make a Clintons Cards joke if I wanted to. Ellie Mason did get one more attempt for Lewes, however it finished 1-0, with the Group D winners going on to host the Group B winners, who were Manchester City after narrowly beating Leicester City 1-0 that night.
The next game in this round-up was meant to be for the much-anticipated top of the table clash with London City Lionesses on January 22nd, however after a couple of pitch inspections the game was called off to frozen patches on the pitch. At least there was no repeat of the antics at Kingsmeadow where Chelsea’s game with Liverpool earlier that day was abandoned after six minutes. This was the first home fixture to be postponed this season (unless you count the time the Conti Cup game with Lewes was briefly due to be played at home in December). This had also marked the third out of four fixtures with LCL that had to be rescheduled; with the away fixture in 2021/22 being postponed due to COVID cases, plus the away fixture from September 2022 due to the passing of HM Queen Elizabeth II. The home fixture has now been rescheduled for Wednesday 8th February with a 6:45pm kick off. Had this game gone ahead, it may have been the last for head coach Melissa Phillips, as it was announced on January 23rd that she had left the club to become assistant at Angel City in the NWSL.
MANCHESTER CITY (HOME): Wednesday 25th January (Conti Cup)
A repeat of last season’s quarter final, however this time it was taking place in the West Country. With the LCL game being postponed, this was Bristol City’s first game in a week, compared to the current Conti Cup winners who had a disappointing 1-1 result against Aston Villa on January 21st.
Tickets for the fixture went on sale at 9am on Thursday January 19th, however within hours the club announced it would be moved from the RHPC to the larger capacity Ashton Gate Stadium due to ticket demand, making it the third fixture to be played at BS3 this season. Recent results at Ashton Gate games hadn’t gone in City’s favour, however this game was treated as a free pass for the team with nothing to lose; especially as being the only non-WSL side remaining in the Cup.
As mentioned earlier, Aimee Palmer was suspended after picking up her second booking in the Conti Cup, plus Grace Clinton was serving a one-match ban; so she would not be able to face the Cityzens, being from her parent club Manchester United. Mari Ward & Elysia Boddy returned to the starting XI, while Man City themselves had a strong starting line-up featuring Steph Houghton as captain, Australian nationals Hayley Raso & Mary Fowler, plus two goal scorers from last year’s quarter final Bunny Shaw (who scored twice) & Alex Greenwood (who scored an own goal giving Bristol City a 1-0 lead at the time). The other goal scorer from that fixture was Vicky Losada, who wasn’t even in the squad and has since left to join AS Roma. Lauren Hemp; who joined Man City from Bristol City; returned to Ashton Gate for the first time since she scored in a WSL Spring Series defeat to Reading in April 2017, when she was 16.
Man City had the strongest start with Filippa Angeldahl’s shot from the edge of the box was pushed out by Liv Clark. And by nine minutes, the visitors were up after Greenwood crossed it in for Raso to get her first by tucking it in & catching out Boddy in defence. An occasion for Greenwood to be involved in the first goal once again, but this time for her own team. Captain for the evening Abi Harrison was able to break down the left soon afterwards & cross for an attempt but Sandy McIver got down low to make the save. The lead doubled on the 13th minute when following a through ball from Angeldahl, Raso broke down the right and finished off in the bottom corner. On the 28th minute, Clark was able to make a save from Shaw but in the process had collided with Naomi Layzell; and able to continue with the game. It would only be a couple of minutes later when Shaw would get her goal, following a cross from Hemp. Hemp then grabbed her first goal on the 35th minute when she cut back from the left and finished from a narrow angle, then turned provider for Fowler on the 44th minute to connect left-footed. Bristol City were 5-0 down at half time, with a one-sided scoreline not seen since the final seasons in the WSL.
The second half saw an improved performance from the home side with Man City only scoring just the once, when in the 60th minute Hemp grabbed her second just after the hour-mark from Shaw’s through ball. Soon afterwards, Hemp was subbed off for Wembley heroine Chloe Kelly, but she was unable to get on the scoresheet. One highlight for Bristol City was on the 68th minute when Emily Syme was replaced by academy product Fearne Slocombe; who had only turned 16 fairly recently; and impressed in the game. The final score was 6-0 to Man City, who will go on to face Arsenal away in the semi-final. With a crowd of 2647 in a midweek fixture, the turnout & atmosphere was impressive. In her post match interview, Jen Foster did state that Man City put out a strong side to compete with her team, which she saw as a sign of respect. Following the game, I did think that if both teams end up facing each other in the Conti Cup quarter final in 2024, I would be very surprised. However that was me thinking that would be the next time these two teams could meet…
Oxford United (H): Sunday 29th January (FA Cup fourth round)
For the second season in a row, Bristol City faced National League opposition in the fourth round in the Women’s FA Cup. However, they were looking to avoid another upset after losing to Southampton FC (a WNL side at the time) last year at St Mary’s. This fixture was the first time that Bristol City & Oxford United faced each other in several years, having last competed against each other in the old WSL2. Former City player Amy Goddard had recently signed for Oxford, but was cup-tied having played for Bridgwater United already this season.
Line-up changes for City included Fran Bentley returning to goal & being named captain for this fixture, while Gracie Pearse & Jodie Hutton lined up on the left side of the defence. Aimee Palmer returned to the midfield; much missed against Man City; with Grace Clinton returning from her suspension to join Abi Harrison & Shania Hayles in the front three. Liv Clark had picked up a knock in the previous game, so academy goalkeeper Maddie Loughborough was on the bench. Third choice goalie Erin Foley was cup-tied, having played at her loan club Larkhall Athletic already this season. The fixture also marked the 50th appearance from 18-year-old Naomi Layzell, who only signed her first professional contract last season.
There was little of note to report on in the first half, as both sides were even against each other. On the 28th minute, Clinton once again collied with a goalkeeper as she tried to take the ball round Rose Kite. Having received treatment, Clinton was then subbed off in the 33rd minute, meaning that she has not completed a full 90 minutes since joining the club. On the very end of the first half, Palmer’s driven free-kick was inadvertently headed back by an Oxford player for Hayles to herself head in, getting her first goal of 2023.
The second half saw the home side finally kick into gear, as on the 48th minute Emily Syme was on the edge of the area to pick out Hutton in the six-yard box to get her first City goal at home, and in the league. On the 62nd minute, Abi Harrison was replaced by Jesse Woolley, who herself netted a goal with an assist from Hutton, in a similar fashion to what was seen at the end of the Coventry game two weeks before. As reference earlier, this was Woolley’s first goal since the opening fixture away at Coventry United back in August. On the 84th minute, the game was put to bed after a pass from Palmer was intercepted by Syme who had a run through the defence to get City’s fourth.
There was a slightly smaller attendance of 449, however kudos to Oxford United for putting on a coach to travel down so that their supporters could attend.
On January 30th, Bristol City were the last home team to be drawn in the Women’s FA Cup fifth round draw by Karen Bardsley live on BBC News. The team that was drawn to visit would be her former club…Manchester City! If this coincidence wasn’t odd enough, the men’s FA Cup fifth round draw that look place later on The One Show on BBC One had the last two teams drawn together of…Bristol City & Manchester City! Due to both rounds taking place on different dates, there will be no double header opportunity.
The Women’s FA Cup fifth round is a few days after the international break ends, and with the last Arnold Clark Cup games taking place at Ashton Gate on February 22nd, fans could potentially see the likes of Lauren Hemp, Chloe Kelly & Alex Greenwood twice in Bristol in the same week. During the international break, Scotland & Wales will be playing in the Pinatar Cup – at time of writing, Abi Harrison has been announced for the Scotland squad. Uneventfully, there was no action on transfer deadline day with no arrivals or departures at the club.
February will also see City play four games; the away trip to Blackburn Rovers on February 5th, the much-anticipated home game with London City Lionesses on February 8th, the first league fixture with Lewes this season at home on February 12th, ending with the FA Cup game against Manchester City on 25th or 26th February (date & location TBC).
*Since this article was written, the club have confirmed on February 3rd that Northern Ireland international Rachel Furness has joined until the end of the season having left Liverpool by mutual consent. More details about this in my February round-up