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Birmingham City 0 Bristol Academy 5 (Natalia 29,56,90, Harding 9,36)
Natalia Pablos Sanchon hit a hat-trick and Natasha Harding added a brace in an emphatic win for Bristol Academy but it was not enough to see them qualify for the Continental Cup semi finals.
Birmingham City's high risk strategy of leaving out a number of first choice players and playing others in different positions backfired spectacularly as they were comprehensively beaten by a near full strength Bristol Academy side who play them again on Wednesday in the league. Indeed the margin of victory could have been even greater as Academy hit the bar three times and even missed a penalty during the match.
The Blues were unlucky not to take a fifth minute lead though as Jo Potter tried to beat Mary Earps with a speculative 35-yard lob but the ball dropped inches over the bar.
However four minutes later they found themselves behind. The home defence were unable to clear the ball away despite a number of attempts and Harding took full advantage, sliding the ball past Rebecca Spencer from six yards.
Natalia had a free kick saved by Spencer but Birmingham were to create a great chance to equalise six minutes later, Potter's pass releasing Hannah Keryakoplis down the right where her low cross picked out Melissa Lawley at the far post but the winger fired over from close range.
Keryakoplis herself shot wide after Potter had set her up from Emily Simpkins' cross but Academy wrested control from this point and almost went two ahead when Nikki Watts got on the end of a low cross from Laura Del Rio and her left foot striker was tipped onto the bar by Spencer.
Barely a minute later though, Grace McCatty's header forward was seized on by Natalia who lobbed the onrushing Spencer to double the visitors' lead.
The Birmingham defence could not contain the Academy attack who moved the ball around quickly with some slick passing and Spencer again came to her side's rescue when, following a scramble from a corner, she denied Harding with an outstretched boot and Abbey-Leigh Stringer managed to prevent the Welsh international from slotting home the rebound.
The in-form Harding was not to be denied though and after being put through by an inch perfect pass by Watts, she rounded a hopelessly exposed Spencer before tucking into the empty net.
Harding could have had a hat-trick as Watts found space on the left and drove in a cross but she stabbed her shot just wide of the far post.
Birmingham brought on Chelsea Weston and Remi Allen as half time substitutes but the damage had already been done and Academy soon increased their lead. Del Rio's pass was met by a superb flick from Harding which released Natalia on goal and once again Spencer was given no chance with a clinical finish.
Lawley drilled a shot inches wide at the other end but a rampant Academy were given a great chance for another goal when Natalia was brought down in the area by Aoife Mannion. Del Rio stepped up to take the resulting penalty but Spencer dived to her left to keep out her shot.
Del Rio almost made amends a minute later with a 30-yard strike which crashed against the bar. With Angharad James and Sophie Ingle dominating matters in midfield, Academy looked for further goals and another one nearly came when McCatty's pass down the right picked out Watts on the edge of the area, where she cut inside a challenge before striking the bar once again via a curling shot.
Birmingham did try to rally with Keryakoplis having a shot charged down by Frankie Brown but as the game went into injury time, Mannion badly underhit a back pass which was latched onto by Natalia whose lob over a stranded Spencer went in via the underside of the bar to complete her hat-trick.
The two teams meet again in the WSL on Wednesday night and it remains to be seen whether this result will have any psychological effect on either side.
Birmingham City: Rebecca Spencer, Aoife Mannion, Hannah George, Emily Westwood (sub Remi Allen 45mins), Meaghan Sargeant, Cristina Torkildsen, Hannah Keryakoplis, Abbey-Leigh Stringer, Melissa Lawley (sub Karen Carney 59mins), Emily Simpkins, Jo Potter (sub Chelsea Weston 45mins). Subs not used: Kerys Harrop, Jade Moore.
Bristol Academy: Mary Earps, Grace McCatty, Corinne Yorston, Loren Dykes, Jemma Rose, Sophie Ingle, Natalia Pablos Sanchon, Angharad James, Natasha Harding (sub Frankie Brown 69mins), Nikki Watts (sub Cristina Vega Leandro 81mins), Laura Del Rio. Subs not used: Jaz Matthews, Alex Windell, Rhian Cleverly.
(top) Laura Del Rio evades a challenge from Cristina Torkildsen
(middle) Natalia Pablos Sanchon lobs home the opening goal of her hat-trick
(bottom) Sophie Ingle slides in to tackle Remi Allen
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