Bristol City have finally recorded their first victory of the season by beating Manchester United 1-0 at the Leigh Sports Village this afternoon.
There would have been few better ways for Tanya Oxtoby and her Bristol City players to see in the New Year than getting their first win of the season in Lancashire. With only two league wins in the last calendar year Oxtoby’s side would have been glad to have seen the back of 2019.
As for the hosts, it was a much more enjoyable 12 months with United having bagged themselves the FA Women’s Championship title, resulting in promotion to the top tier of English women’s football while they have topped possibly the toughest FA Women’s Continental League Cup group this season.
Yet there were a reversal of roles as the South West side dug deep and gallantly overcame their ominous opponents to leave as 1-0 victors.
The home side displayed plenty of endeavour to get into the final third during the early stages of the game but despite putting plenty of balls into the Bristol City penalty area, they struggled to create any clear cut chances.
The first meaningful effort for the home side came when Lauren James had ghosted out onto the left wing and she let fly after cutting in on her right. The effort was straight at visiting keeper Sophie Baggaley and looked harmless enough, however, there was a nervy moment when the ball appeared to have wormed between Baggaley’s legs but much to her relief she gathered the ball at the second attempt.
United were growing more and more frustrated, as were their fans, and their aggravations were not helped when they went 1-0 down. Former United player Ebony Salmon picked the ball up on the left and with a quick turn of pace, left Abbie McManus for dead. With just the keeper to beat, Bristol City’s number nine opened her body and slotted the ball beyond Mary Earps. After having never really been given a proper look in at Manchester United, it will have delighted Salmon to no end to show exactly what she is capable of on her return to the Leigh Sports Village.
There was lengthy stoppage in play as Bristol City defender Georgia Wilson had to receive treatment and was subsequently substituted for what looked like a nasty injury as she hobbled off the pitch.
The hosts continued to press forward in the hope of restoring parity and they nearly drew level through Hayley Ladd. As the ball fell at the feet of the Welsh International on the edge of the area, she looked to pick out the top corner but could only steer the ball over.
United did seem the side most likely to score the next goal and looked to have done so towards the end of the half. Baggaley didn’t claim a corner floated in by Katie Zelem and the ball dropped kindly in front of Millie Turner, whose first time effort was arrowed on target and audible yelps of glee streamed across the crowd. However, the central defender was inexplicably denied as the ball was somehow cleared off the line.
When the half-time whistle blew, the United players hurried of the pitch as if desperate to right the wrongs of the first half as soon as possible.
Their attitude after the break certainly demonstrated that. United opened the second half with a tremendous sense of urgency and weren’t wasting any time trying to get back into the game. The introduction of Jess Sigsworth certainly helped that as her guile and perseverance created space in high areas, however, United continued to struggle to wear down the Bristol City backline. The most dangerous moments came from long balls into the box which Baggaley consistently struggled to deal with and should have been punished on several occasions but for some lacklustre United finishing.
A prime example came in the final 10 minutes of the match. Leah Galton cut inside from the right and threaded a delightful reverse pass to Jackie Groenen who was through on goal but fired straight at Baggaley. The consequent rebound fell beautifully to half-time substitute Lizzie Arnot who probably couldn’t believe her luck. Three yards from goal and with the keeper in no man’s land you would’ve bet your house on United equalising yet somehow Arnot fired the ball onto the crossbar for what is an early contender for miss of the decade.
Undeterred by this, United ploughed forward but Baggaley was determined to keep hold of her clean sheet. This time it was another substitute, Ella Toone, with a long range left footed effort which was palmed away by the outstretched arm of Baggaley for a corner.
Shortly after Toone had another chance at goal. A floated ball in behind was met on the volley by the forward and her effort looked to be going in only to be denied by post.
More and more, The Red Devils pushed forward, forcing The Robins further and further back. The home fans urged their team on and were not afraid to let their grievances with Bristol City’s persistent time wasting be known by the referee. Their protestations did not fall on deaf ears as the fourth official announced six minutes of added time. This seemed to give the home players an extra surge of energy and Bristol City were under siege for large portions of the dying moments but United, despite their plethora of chances from the likes of Galton and Groenen, couldn’t get on the scoresheet and the match finished 1-0.
Few could have foreseen this result at the start of the day with Bristol City having conceded 30 goals in nine games before the match. Therefore, it is nothing short of miraculous that they were able to keep the likes of James and Galton subdued for much of the game. This win earned Bristol City their first three points of the season and elevates them off the foot of the table, leapfrogging Liverpool into 11th.
As for United, they will feel that they performed well below the high standards that they and manager Casey Stoney expects of them. They now look ahead to the small matter of an away trip to Liverpool next weekend. Such a significant clash so soon after a disappointing defeat could weigh heavily on the players but you’d imagine Stoney will see it as the best way of her side redeeming themselves against their fiercest rivals.