Last-gasp Bristol City equaliser stuns Aston Villa in WSL relegation showdown
Aston Villa 2 Bristol City 2
Matt Beard praised his Bristol City side’s second-half recovery as Ella Mastrantonio’s equaliser deep into added time rescued a point in a Women’s Super League relegation showdown.
Aston Villa led 2-0 at half-time but squandered the lead as bottom side City responded impressively to maintain their survival hopes. They remain level on points with Villa, having played a game more, one point behind West Ham and Birmingham, each with two games in hand.
Meaghan Sargeant’s early own goal and Natalie Haigh’s header put the hosts in control, but Faye Bryson brought Beard’s side back into the game 16 minutes from time before Mastrantonio struck with a free-kick.
“The first half was probably the most disappointed I’ve been because we didn’t do the bare basics, which is frustrating,” Beard said. “We did it in the second half. We caused them problems.
“It just looked like, to me, in the first half they wanted it more, and you can’t allow that to happen when you’re in a relegation battle. But the second-half performance was good and it was a great way to end the game.
“For the first time since I’ve been here, I raised my voice at half-time. We didn’t exploit the spaces that we knew we could but, in the second half, when we were going forward, back and then switching it out, that’s when they became stretched and that’s where the goal came from.”
The result was something of a punishment for Villa, who began energetically but wasted chances to seal the game, and take a huge step towards survival, in the second half.
It took Villa only three minutes to get on the scoresheet, as a dangerous header across the six-yard box was deflected into the helpless body of Sargeant by sprawling goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley.
The aerial threat proved difficult to deal with again in the 35th minute, when Villa doubled their lead from an intricate set-piece. Elisha N’Dow’s searching cross following a short corner found the head of Haigh, who looped her header over Baggaley.
Villa appeared on course for their first win in seven games until Bryson latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the area in the 74th minute, moments after coming on.
Her introduction, along with that of Abi Harrison, turned the tide of the game. Villa were unable to penetrate in the first half but impressive hold-up play from Scottish international Harrison invited team-mates forward and caused trouble for the home side’s defence.
The resilient City side did not let up and were rewarded for their tenacity. The equaliser came when Villa were unable to deal with an innocuous-looking free-kick from Mastrantonio, another second-half substitute. Her lofted ball from 35 yards sailed into the packed penalty box and trickled over the line without a touch to complete the comeback.