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Bristol Academy 0 Chelsea 1 (Buet pen 5)
A fifth minute penalty from Danielle Buet saw Chelsea inflict only a third defeat of the season on Bristol Academy in the FA WSL.
However this does not tell the story of a bizarre match at Stoke Gifford in which Chelsea lost three key players with serious looking injuries as well as a sending off, before holding out under severe pressure from the home side in order to finally claim the three points from a match which lasted for 112 minutes. The result however kills off any remaining hopes that Bristol Academy harboured of claiming the runners-up spot.
In the fifth minute of play, Chelsea were handed a great chance to take the lead when Jemma Rose was penalised for a challenge on Adriana Martin in the area. Buet stepped up to send Siobhan Chamberlain the wrong way from the spot and Chelsea were in front.
Chelsea continued to pass the ball around neatly and keep possession without troubling the home defence too much, going closest when Martin fired a left foot shot wide. Academy had shown little as an attacking force during the opening stages but their first opportunity came shortly afterwards, Alex Windell breaking into the area and Carly Telford made a brave smothering save at her feet, resulting in the Chelsea goalkeeper receiving lengthy treatment before being able to continue.
Telford was soon called into action again as she dived full length to tip a Windell shot past the post for a corner. The resulting kick, taken by Jessica Fishlock, was met by Corinne Yorston but her header came back off the bar.
A Windell cross picked out Laura Del Rio who volleyed over but Chelsea weathered the storm and went close to extending their lead, Buet floating a free kick into the area where Martin headed narrowly wide.
Del Rio dragged a shot wide at the other end after being set up by Natasha Harding but another lengthy stoppage resulted when Kate Longhurst fell in agony following an innocuous looking tackle from Fishlock and the striker was stretchered off with a suspected broken ankle.
There was an understandable lull in play following the Longhurst injury but the game came back to life during first half injury time. A good passing move almost led to Chelsea going further ahead but Claire Rafferty's shot was charged down and Helen Lander put the rebound wide.
Back came Academy with Fishlock shooting wide from a free kick on the edge of the area and then a good move saw Fishlock exchange passes with Del Rio before her shot brought out a fine save from Telford. Unfortunately, in trying to prevent the shot, Rafferty fell awkwardly and had to go off with what is feared to be a recurrence of her knee ligament injury.
Worse was to follow for Chelsea just moments later as Dunia Susi also went off with a suspected serious ankle injury, forcing Emma Hayes into her third substitution before the start of the second half.
The first opportunity of the second half went Chelsea's way as Helen Bleazard put Lander through on goal but Chamberlain came to her side's rescue by making a fine save.
Chelsea's troubles further increased on 55 minutes when goalscorer Buet, who had been booked only a couple of minutes earlier, fouled Del Rio and was shown a second yellow card, reducing her side to ten players.
Academy stepped up the pressure and tried to make their extra player advantage count but Chelsea defended in depth and protected Telford well, preventing the home side from getting behind their defence.
The equaliser almost came as Harding swung in a cross to an unmarked Yorston whose sweetly struck volley crashed against the bar and Chelsea managed to scramble the ball clear.
The home side's frustrations grew as both Fishlock and Grace McCatty had shots blocked on the line and then, Bleazard beat Windell to the loose ball and raced clear on goal. The Welsh international carried the ball fully 70 yards and struck her shot well but Chamberlain pulled off a fine save, tipping the ball over the bar.
Academy now threw everything they possibly could at Chelsea and won corner after corner but the back four defended superbly, with the magnificent Gemma Bonner being well supported by Sophie Ingle and Kylie Davies while full backs Lara Fay and Sophie Perry, both of whom had been first half substitutes, also did really well.
Harding headed over the bar while Del Rio and Melissa Lawley both had shots charged down as Chelsea refused to buckle. Indeed they could even have increased their lead in injury time when a loose back pass from Del Rio saw Martin beat Chamberlain to the ball but Rose was on hand to tidy up and clear the danger.
Try as they might, Academy could not force a way through and Chelsea held out for a win which could not have been harder earned. It is to be hoped that it will not have been at too huge a cost.
Bristol Academy: Siobhan Chamberlain, Loren Dykes (sub Nikki Watts 76mins), Corinne Yorston, Grace McCatty, Jemma Rose, Alex Windell, Laura Del Rio Garcia, Angharad James (sub Ann Marie Heatherson 88mins), Natasha Harding, Jessica Fishlock, Ellie Curson (sub Melissa Lawley 58mins). Subs not used: Michelle Green, Rachel Simkin, Rhian Cleverly.
Chelsea: Carly Telford, Dunia Susi (sub Kylie Davies 45mins), Claire Rafferty (sub Sophie Perry 45mins), Laura Coombs, Gemma Bonner, Sophie Ingle, Helen Bleazard, Danielle Buet, Adriana Martin, Helen Lander, Kate Longhurst (sub Lara Fay 41mins). Sub not used: Suzanne Lappin.
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