Match Report: Bristol City 2-4 Liverpool

Photo: Hana Gul

The scene was set weeks prior to the big game. First it was 3,000 tickets sold, then it was 5,000. Earlier in the week, the El Classico broke the record for the most attended women’s football match with 91,553 fans shaking Camp Nou to its core. Wolfsburg then broke their home record with 11,293 fans coming to watch the second leg of the UWCL semifinals against Arsenal. The FA Women’s Championship wanted a piece, and the fans delivered. 5,752 supporters filled Ashton Gate Stadium. The Bristol City fans were entertained with a brave performance by their team, but it was the visiting fans who were treated to the 4-2 win in the end and stayed with their Reds to celebrate the long-awaited promotion to the Women’s Super League.

Bristol City’s brigade was in full force with their fans waving small grey flags, chanting and singing from the very start. The Liverpool stronghold mostly occupied the W12 and W11 stands. Together, they decked out their end with a variety of flags. At the bottom, Liverpool’s Boston, Ohio supporters group hung their flag proudly, next to Jo Goodall’s familiar Liverpool Women’s supporters’ club banner.

Similar to last week against Durham, another Megan Campbell long throw caused problems but for Bristol City’s defence this time. The red shirts were unable to clear the ball and it fell for the skipper, Niamh Fahey who put her team in front 13 minutes in. Players and fans erupted, but manager, Matt Beard was heard yelling at the top of his lungs, “stay in shape!” making sure the players kept their cool.

Beard’s concerns were proven valid as just five minutes later, Rachel Laws miscalculated Aggie Beever-jones’s cross from the left and it snuck its way into the top corner. The game was truly on and though The Reds only needed a draw, Bristol was not going to make it easy for them to claim the title.

Beever-jones continued to break Liverpool’s defence, running onto many of the long balls perfectly delivered to her by her teammates but the final finish was missing. In the 40th minute, Jasmine Matthews fired her side back on top, driving the ball in to make it 2-1.

Both teams started the second half strongly. Rachel Furness had her long-range effort pummeled away by Fran Bentley who then had to dive at full stretch to deny Melissa Lawley’s cross from creating any danger. It was Liverpool who scored once more through Katie Stengel. Campbell’s long throw was flicked on by Furness before being volleyed in by the American. She ran off to celebrate in front of the fans, but quickly disappeared under her teammates who leapt onto one another. Missy Bo Kearns was warming up on the touchline before joining in. “My heart is pounding!” she exclaimed in her well-known Scouse accent after the huddle broke away.

It was deja-vu for Liverpool though, as Bristol clawed one back nine minutes later. Abi Harrison got her 19th goal of the season as she connected with a well-delivered cross from the right. Controlling it with her chest, she found the very end of the corner, leaving Laws no chance.

The energy rippled through the ground. Kids in the stands were loving the drama, as high-pitched voices chanted for one more goal. The Liverpool fans were still in high spirits knowing they only needed a draw to gain promotion. But the thought was there, and it was especially felt by the Bristol and neutral fans. “What if, just what if Bristol pull it off?” Afterall, they were playing their hearts out for the record-breaking crowd.

While it just wasn’t meant to be for The Vixens to make a heroic comeback at home, it was written in the stars for a particular player on the pitch. Coming on as a substitute in the 73rd minute, Scouser and childhood Liverpool fan, Kearns sealed it for her city with barely ten minutes to go. Stengel’s hard work to put the ball into the box paid off as the ball deflected off Charlotte Wardlaw and fell for Kearns who slotted it in.

In front of her travelling fans, she slid on her knees before being piled on by her teammates. The 20-year-old was pulled and held up by the beaming players before she huffed out a huge breath and clutched her body, overwhelmed by it all.

“Don’t you know, pump it up. The reds are going up” was sung by the away fans as players on the bench began gathering on the sidelines eagerly waiting for the referee’s final whistle. After a long five minutes of stoppage time, the whistle was blown and only the first part of it was heard as the cheers of the players and fans drowned out the other two.

The champions flag was out within seconds and so was a huge Liverpool flag, handed over to the players by the fans. Though the trophy was not yet ready to be lifted, Kearns ran over to the crowd, spotting a homemade replica trophy and handed it to captain, Fahey. It was a fake trophy lift, but the emotion felt by the players was nothing but real. Taylor Hinds, who has had an exceptional season cried as she embraced her family in the stands.

The connection between the fans and players was clear as day, as the kids who had travelled on the coaches crowded by the front, chatting excitedly with their favourites. With two games to go, Liverpool have secured promotion two years after being relegated from the Women’s Super League and they did it by going 14 points clear at the top. The excitement remains, as aside from topflight football, the return of the Merseyside and Liverpool-Manchester derby is now all but a dream.

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