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Bristol Academy 1 (Harding 75) Birmingham City 0
Bristol Academy picked up one of the three wins they require to win the FA WSL title when a Natasha Harding goal fifteen minutes from time gave them their first home victory over Birmingham City.
However the title chasers were indebted to goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain who pulled off a number of brilliant saves in the second half to keep her side in the game before scoring a somewhat fortuitous goal to take the points.
The game started in heavy drizzle which persisted throughout the match and there was a sign of things to come in the opening couple of minutes when Melissa Lawley tried her luck with a shot from the edge of the area and Chamberlain did well to dive and push away.
Academy responded with Natalia having a shot saved by Rebecca Spencer and the home side began to pick up momentum. Harding fired an effort wide after sliding in to win the ball from Emily Westwood on the edge of the area and the Welsh international again missed the target after having been released by Natalia's pass.
At the other end, Jo Potter went close with a low skidding shot and Kirsty Linnett almost broke through from a long Westwood clearance before being halted by a good saving tackle from Jemma Rose.
But it was Academy who finished the first half on top and after Natalia had fired a shot over, they almost took the lead in injury time when Laura Del Rio broke through on goal and crashed the ball against the bar.
Academy picked up the pace at the start of the second half and Del Rio once again hit the bar with a powerful left foot strike. Moments later, from a corner, Del Rio had another effort blocked by Spencer.
Birmingham hit back straight away with Linnett's pass finding Jade Moore who burst between two defenders and into the area but was denied by Chamberlain who spread herself to make a fine save.
The England goalkeeper then did even better as the impressive Linnett broke away down the right and towards goal where her angled shot looked destined for the top corner but Chamberlain produced a save of the highest quality, keeping the ball out with a one handed effort at full stretch.
The home side began to look nervous as Birmingham increased the pressure and they fought hard to hold out. They were unable to clear the ball in a goalmouth scramble following a corner and Chelsea Weston did well to steady herself and drill a shot goalwards but Grace McCatty was well placed to clear the ball off the line.
Katie Wilkinson was next to go close as she met a Potter free kick with a downward header but once again the seemingly unbeatable Chamberlain foiled her with another brilliant reaction save.
Academy weathered the Birmingham storm and came up with a decisive reply fifteen minutes from time. Natalia steered a pass inside Kerys Harrop who lost her footing, allowing Harding to break away on goal and although she dragged her shot on goal, it took a wicked deflection off the unfortunate Aoife Mannion and past a wrong footed substitute goalkeeper Mary Earps to find the net.
However they still needed to work hard to hold onto their lead as Birmingham sought an equaliser. Academy needed to survive two huge goalmouth scrambles from corners and then a long searching pass from Potter was chased down by Westwood whose shot from an angle brought out another great save from Chamberlain. The Academy defence could not get the rebound away and Issy Christiansen hit a firm shot on the turn but once again Chamberlain stood strong and kept the ball out.
Academy had to negotiate six nervous minutes of injury time in order to register their third clean sheet in four matches and they celebrated wildly as the final whistle sounded. Two more wins and they will be Champions.
Bristol Academy: Siobhan Chamberlain, Grace McCatty, Corinne Yorston, Jaz Matthews, Jemma Rose, Angharad James, Natalia Pablos Sanchon (sub Ellie Curson 90mins), Alex Windell, Ann Marie Heatherson (sub Cristina Vega Leandro 64mins), Laura Del Rio (sub Nikki Watts 84mins), Natasha Harding. Subs not used: Ellie Leek, Rhian Cleverly, Charlotte Haynes, Laura May Walkley.
Birmingham City: Rebecca Spencer (sub Mary Earps 67mins), Chelsea Weston, Kerys Harrop, Jade Moore, Aoife Mannion, Emily Westwood, Issy Christiansen, Coral Haines (sub Katie Wilkinson 45mins), Kirsty Linnett, Melissa Lawley, Jo Potter. Subs not used: Emily Simpkins, Crissy Torkildsen, Laura Bassett, Rachel Williams, Hannah George.
(top) Natalia Pablos Sanchon tries to hold off Aoife Mannion
(middle) Katie Wilkinson (partially hidden) goes close with a second half header
(bottom) one of a number of goalmouth scrambles in the Bristol Academy area!
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