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Women's Football News
Arsenal 1 (Smith 60) Bristol Academy 1 (Harding 19)
A second half strike from Kelly Smith preserved Arsenal's unbeaten record and left them six points clear at the top of the FA WSL, but only after they had been given a huge scare by Bristol Academy.
The visitors had led when Natasha Harding stunned the home crowd with a powerful shot and more than deserved the point which maintained their own unbeaten away record in the league this season.
Arsenal had set out their stalls for an early goal whilst Academy were content to sit back and hit on the break but a good Arsenal move almost led to a breakthrough. Steph Houghton's long ball picked out Smith who cushioned a pass into the path of Ellen White but Corinne Yorston reacted quickly to block her shot.
The Gunners were to go even closer when Gemma Davison got past Loren Dykes and sped to the goal line and pulled the ball back for Kim Little but the Scottish midfielder lacked her normal assuredness in front of goal and her shot came back off the post.
Academy rode out the early storm before coming up with a stunning reply of their own. Harding intercepted a pass out of defence on the halfway line and made her way down the right, the Arsenal defence backed off as if content to let her shoot and Harding made them pay by unleashing a rasping 20-yard shot which soared past Emma Byrne and into the far top corner of the net.
Arsenal had been stung by the goal and sought a quick reply with Smith sliding a pass into the area from the left for Little whose shot was saved by Siobhan Chamberlain. However this was a rare clear opportunity as Academy kept things watertight at the back and demonstrated why they have the best defensive record in the league to date.
The home side were to go very close to equalising on 37 minutes though as a pinpoint cross by Smith picked out Davison whose volley beat Chamberlain but Yorston once again rescued her side with a clearance on the line. Jessica Fishlock sent a long range shot straight at Byrne at the other end but Arsenal's frustrations continued as a number of crosses flashed across the face of goal with no one present to force the ball home.
The second half began quietly but Arsenal began to pick up the pace again and spurned a great chance to level the scores. Another long ball out of defence by Houghton picked out Davison who sped down the right and crossed but Smith scooped her shot over from eight yards.
Moments later Little drove a shot inches wide from the edge of the area but the increasing pressure told on the hour mark as Arsenal levelled the scores, albeit with a tinge of controversy.
Alex Scott appeared to handle the ball in the process of intercepting a pass but play was waved on and Davison found Smith whose 25-yard shot beat Chamberlain, despite the keeper getting a hand to the ball.
With Academy having only played three days earlier and needing to replace the injured Dykes, it seemed that Arsenal would take the game from here but this was never to be the case. Smith did get behind them soon after the goal though from Jordan Nobbs' pass and her low cross looked destined to be turned in by White but she was denied by a vital last ditch challenge from Alex Windell.
A neat one-two between Little and Smith culminated with Little's cross being lifted over the bar by Nobbs but apart from this move, Arsenal could not capture their usual fluency and Academy kept them at bay with typical determination.
With Laura Del Rio looking lively, Academy were also threatening on the break and finished the game strongly, winning a number of set pieces in good positions but could not create any clear cut opportunities as the teams cancelled themselves out for a fair result.
Arsenal: Emma Byrne, Alex Scott, Niamh Fahey, Jayne Ludlow (sub Katie Chapman 76mins), Gilly Flaherty, Steph Houghton, Gemma Davison, Jordan Nobbs (sub Jennifer Beattie 83mins), Ellen White (sub Rachel Yankey 68mins), Kim Little, Kelly Smith. Subs not used: Sophie Harris, Yvonne Tracy, Ciara Grant, Danielle Carter.
Bristol Academy: Siobhan Chamberlain, Alex Windell, Loren Dykes (sub Grace McCatty 61mins), Angharad James, Corinne Yorston, Jemma Rose, Laura Del Rio Garcia, Nikki Watts (sub Ellie Curson 90mins), Natasha Harding, Jessica Fishlock, Jaz Matthews (sub Melissa Lawley 25mins). Subs not used: Rachel Simkin, Rhian Cleverly, Molly Clark, Ann Marie Heatherson.
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