In this monthly column for Since 71, I look back at another busy month of fixtures & news for Bristol City.
Lewes 0-1 Bristol City: Wednesday 1st March
Three days after being knocked out by Manchester City in the FA Cup, Bristol City returned to league action, facing off against Lewes for the third month in a row in another rearranged fixture. With Aimee Palmer coming off injured in the previous game, Fran Bentley was named captain.
A slow start to the game, attempts from Grace Clinton & Rachel Furness were saved & went over the bar respectively. Ellie Mason herself saw an attempt go over the bar for Lewes before then going on to run inside from the left some minutes later, but Bentley was able to save with ease. Former City player Rhian Cleverly almost scored after 33 minutes when she snuck in at the back post but wasn’t able to turn home from a dangerous cross. And only a couple of minutes later, Abi Harrison fired a low ball towards the back post but it just escaped the touch of an onrushing Shania Hayles.
Hayles would have another attempt in the first half when she went round Sophie Whitehouse but it was blocked by the Lewes defence. The first 45 minutes ended when Kirsty Barton’s cross was too high for Emma Thompson to head into the net.
Second half chances came fast & early for City. Hayles was inadvertently passed the ball from a Lewes player but would go on to fire a snap-shot over the bar from inside the area. In the minutes that followed, Rachel Furness had her effort go slightly wide then Vicky Bruce was able to head from Harrison’s corner only to see it cleared off the line by Mason.
On 58 minutes, Jodie Hutton delivered a corner from the right and after a melee in the Lewes area, Hutton ended up with the ball again & crossed it into Harrison to fire an effort into a crowd of bodies.
Never giving up, Hayles emerged to finish instinctively into the bottom corner & give City the sole goal of the contest. Against the run of play, Paula Howells ran towards goal but her attempt went over the bar. Bentley was called into action when she saved Kenzie Weir’s attempt following a Lewes free kick.
Chances were few & far between, but the final action saw substitute Jesse Woolley go through on goal in stoppage time but saw her left-footed effort well saved by Whitehouse. The small number of away supporters that travelled down south would be heading home happy, especially with the result meaning that Bristol City would go back on top of the table.
Crystal Palace 0-3 Bristol City: Sunday 5th March
City’s first game since WSL relegation took place at Hayes Lane back in August 2021, where Crystal Palace would end up 4-3 winners. Fast forward to March 2023, and City would once again get three goals, but come away with three points. For Lauren Smith’s 50th game in charge, the most notable change was Rachel Furness missing from the squad due to illness. However, this appeared to not be a problem as City were on the attack from the get go.
In the earlier moments of the game, former Palace player Ffion Morgan set up Shania Hayles only to hit the side netting. But it was on the 8th minute when Abi Harrison dinked the ball into the area for Grace Clinton to lift a volley over the onrushing Fran Kitching. Hayles would get another chance on 16 minutes when she ran into Clinton’s flicked-on header, but Kitching was able to tip it over the bar. The Eagles gave the visitors a scare minutes later when Anna Filbey’s shot from 25 yards rattled the crossbar above Fran Bentley.
The first half concluded with another Clinton finish, this time from a free kick that seemed to go past all the Palace players & into the bottom left of the goal. Whether it was indeed a great free kick or just really bad defending, myself & other visiting fans didn’t wonder due to just being ecstatic at the time.
If half-time was meant to halt momentum, then it clearly didn’t as just three minutes into the second half Harrison picked the ball up just inside the Palace half before finding Emily Syme. The midfielder played a quick one-two with Morgan before sliding the ball across the box for Harrison to get City’s first, and ended up running to dance in front of Ryan Asman’s camera. If you haven’t seen his gallery, you can check that out HERE.
Despite being 3-0 down, Palace continued to fight on. Near the hour mark, Rianna Dean set up Molly-Mae Sharpe which forced Bentley to go off her line to stop the attempt. On 76 minutes, Clinton glided the ball for Harrison to race through on the right of the area, but was only able to fire into the side netting. A brief scare happened in front of the away supporters when after Naomi Layzell’s pass back, Bentley’s ball was briefly intercepted by Dean but the goalkeeper was able to fix her mistake. Sticking with goalkeepers, the game ended with some action for Kitching as she not only forced Morgan’s free kick onto the bar on the 84th minute, but then saved an attempt from substitute Tianna Teisar.
Former City players Chloe Arthur & Elise Hughes came on as substitutes on the 87th minute but failed to make an overall impact. The delirium felt by City fans earlier was matched, if not bettered, with the news emerging that London City Lionesses had a shock 2-1 loss to Sheffield United.
At full-time, I was probably one of the fans to celebrate & at the same time let the players know that they now had a six point gap at the top of the table!
This was my first visit to Hayes Lane, and while there wasn’t as many home fans as I anticipated (the Conti Cup taking place at Selhurst Park at the same time didn’t help things), it was great to see the many flags put up by the loyal Palace fans, as well as hearing them sing and sarcastically chanting “Hallelujah!” when a refereeing decision went in their favour.
The Broomfields sports bar which opened at Hayes Lane in 2022 was a real surprise with plenty of food & drink on offer, which sadly I wasn’t able to have much of given the occasion. However, what mattered the most was that this was a great result watched by the City faithful that had travelled from the west country, plus those that were London based. Clinton was shortlisted for Barclays Womens Championship Player of the Week, and won the Twitter poll.
What was more unique was that the Durham fans were not in the other end of the stand, but actually on the other side of the pitch facing the singing home fans. However, it was the home faithful that were left celebrating at the end of the first half when a Ffion Morgan free kick landed into Abi Harrison to head into Becky Salicki – who would accidentally put it in her own net. Given that Durham’s players did their best to prevent the home side scoring, it would be ironic that it was one of these players responsible for conceding a goal.
Furness was subbed off at half time for the returning Aimee Palmer, and the second half saw City really come into the game. With attempts from Grace Clinton & Harrison, Shania Hayles’ low cross was sent spinning towards the net, but Durham scrambled it out of play. On the 57th minute, City would have their second goal when a Palmer corner bounced off Vicky Bruce for Gracie Pearse to turn it past Naoisha McAloon in the Durham goal.
On the 63rd minute, McAloon was forced into a stop to deny Harrison from the edge of the area after a clever interchange with Emily Syme. Shortly afterwards, a run from Hayles led to another Clinton attempt only for it to go over the bar. The 67th minute saw a double substitution for City, which included the first appearance in over six months for defender Brooke Aspin. Having been treated for sepsis & spending time in hospital, her return was applauded with great cheers from players, staff & the majority of the 495 fans in attendance. Ten minutes later, Aspin was able to feed Harrison who then crossed for Clinton to score at the second attempt after her initial effort was well saved by McAloon.
In stoppage time, a Palmer corner landed perfectly for Aspin who was unfortunate in heading the ball into the post. Full time it finished 3-0, with Pearse being shortlisted for Barclays Womens Championship Player of the Week, and winning the Twitter poll. A new club record was set having gone eight league games unbeaten. Would it be nine?
Bristol City 3-0 Durham: Sunday 12th March
Earlier in the week the Fans Forum took place earlier that week on International Women’s Day, as well as Lauren Smith being named Barclays Women’s Championship Manager of the Month for February by the League Managers Association panel. The only home fixture of the month commenced with an earlier than usual kick-off time of 2pm – probably to accommodate the team (and their fans!) that had travelled from the north east.
Mari Ward had started the previous fixture but as she was away with the England under-17 squad in Euro qualifiers, she was replaced by the returning Rachel Furness. The first half started off cagey, with the Wildcats being tough on the pitch throughout. On the 12th minute, Mollie Lambert was able to set up Lauren Briggs who backheeled but was saved by Fran Bentley.
Nothing much of note took place in the first 45 minutes, with some entertainment produced by both sets of fans trying to out drum & out sing each other.
London City Lionesses 2-0 Bristol City: Sunday 19th March
With both teams out of the FA Cup, the quarter-final weekend saw this rescheduled fixture from September 2022 finally take place. Another top-of-the-table fixture, this was broadcast live on the FA Player which was a benefit for those that were unable to travel to the match. However, the benefit wouldn’t last for Bristol City fans that were watching online or in person. Former City player Lily Agg, who scored in the reverse fixture in February, was serving a suspension having been sent off in London City’s previous game against Lewes, however, this didn’t seem to have much of an impact.
Fran Bentley was called into action after eight minutes as she produced a stop to deny Atlanta Primus on the volley from just inside the area. Bentley was called into action throughout the match, alongside Abi Harrison & Vicky Bruce who all made big blocks to deny the hosts in the first half.
The game was put to bed early on in the second half, with Primus set up by Sarah Ewens to put the ball into the bottom corner on the 47th minute. Five minutes later, a ball from Karin Muya was passed back to Primus to shoot into the exact same corner. City were on the backfoot & spend more time in defence. Despite seven minutes of added time, the game came to nothing for the visitors and their lead at the top of the table was reduced back to three points. In her post match interview, Lauren Smith said simply that the better team won; their press was better, that they picked up the first & second balls better, and they wanted it more.
A tough watch on this afternoon, and a long journey back to ponder for the players, staff & travelling fans that went.
One particular highlight was that this was the first game to feature the club’s 2023/24 home kit from O’Neills. Hopefully the team will have a much better game the next time they will play in it in April.
Southampton 0-1 Bristol City: Sunday 26th March
Sticking with the new kit, this game marked the first appearance in the new 2023/24 third kit with yellow shirts & green shorts. Despite looking like Brazil, this kit announcement did cause controversy amongst the fanbase due to the club badge moving to the back, and being replaced on the front with a drawing of a flying robin. Nonetheless, City returned to St Mary’s Stadium on Women’s Football Weekend, with their last visit being a humbling 1-0 extra-time loss to the then-National League side in the previous season’s FA Cup. The scoreline was repeated, but it was the visitors that would be victorious – even if they had their work cut out to keep it that score.
Mari Ward returned to the starting XI after playing for England, and Brooke Aspin started a game for the first time this season. Jesse Woolley made a rare start up in front, with Abi Harrison dropping back to midfield. There was a brief scare at the start when Fran Bentley passed the ball back to Ward, but was outmuscled by Ella Morris who flashed a dangerous low ball across the area, narrowly missing a sliding Beth Lumsden in the middle. It was picked up by Alice Griffiths, who tipped it over the bar.
But it was on the 18th minute following a team move with Grace Clinton & Shania Hayles for Ffion Morgan to flip a dipping volley in off the crossbar. On the 32nd minute, Milly Mott won the ball & ran down the left wing before being passed to Beth Lumsden who cut in from the left before seeing her effort saved by Bentley. The Saints took further chances in the rest of the half but it stayed 1-0.
A half-time substitution saw Ella Powell come on for Ward. On the 50th minute, Vicky Bruce set up Powell for a long run. Her pass was caught by Clinton whose shot was blocked by Rosie Parnell, but landed into Woolley whose effort from the edge of the area was put out by Kayla Rendell. The corner that followed saw a saved header by Rachel Furness – returning to St Mary’s for the first time since Northern Ireland’s game with England at the Euros last summer. A few moments later, Southampton delivered a low cross into the area for Lumsden, but her effort was saved by the right hand of Bentley. The Saints continued to attack, and on the 78th minute Katie Wilkinson got through on goal and tried to take it round Bentley who went out of the box, but she was able to make up for it & caught the ball.
What followed appeared to be a shove by Wilkinson, but no action was taken by the official. Lucia Kendall had her own attempt following a home side corner, but once again this was stopped. A final corner saw both Wilkinson & Lexi Lloyd-Smith have chances but Bentley was able to stop.
With an attendance announced online of 5,042 (although the number announced at the stadium was at least a couple of thousand lower, probably not taking into account the various groups that were invited), the travelling faithful were rewarded – especially those that had got on a coach organised by the football club & Bristol City Supporters Club & Trust. And with London City Lionesses in a shock 3-0 loss to Durham in an earlier kick-off, the gap was back at six points. Bentley was shortlisted for Barclays Womens Championship Player of the Week, and won the Twitter poll.
The final month in the Championship sees City host Sheffield United on Sunday 2nd April. Following the international break, they travel up to face Sunderland on Sunday 16th April, before the last home game of the season against Charlton Athletic on Sunday 23rd April at Ashton Gate Stadium. The season concludes with an away trip to Birmingham City on Sunday 30th April. For the league title, it’s Bristol City’s to lose…