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Bristol Academy 3 (Matthews 2, Watts pen 35, Natalia 78)
Arsenal 4 (Smith 49,52,pen 66, Scott 55)
Kelly Smith scored a brilliant second half hat-trick as Arsenal came from two goals behind to win a thrilling WSL 1 match at Stoke Gifford.
Bristol Academy had deservedly led by two goals at the break before three goals in a six minute spell turned the match on its head and Arsenal now look fully on course for a top half finish.
The home side could not have got off to a better start after winning a corner inside the opening two minutes. Angharad James' kick could not be cleared and Jaz Matthews was on hand to drill the ball home from eight yards.
Academy continued to carry the game towards Arsenal and a Loren Dykes cross flashed across the face of goal with no-one on hand to force the ball home. Danielle Carter did have a shot saved by Mary Earps at the other end but the Gunners were looking completely out of sorts at this stage.
Natalia was presented with an opportunity to double Academy's lead when she latched onto James' through ball but the Spanish striker was denied by Emma Byrne, who made a good block with her legs.
With Sophie Ingle dictating matters in midfield, well supported by James, Academy continued to have the better of things and they were to double their lead ten minutes before half time. Dykes played the ball into the area where Natalia was brought down by Alex Scott for a penalty. Nikki Watts stepped up to beat Byrne from the spot and send her side two goals ahead.
Corinne Yorston drilled a shot just wide from Watts' pass but perhaps the most significant moment of the match came just seconds later as Casey Stoney, who had been struggling with a back injury, limped off to be replaced by Kelly Smith.
Academy took their two-goal lead into the break but the transformation began from the restart as Arsenal came out with much more purpose. Within four minutes, they were back in the game as a Rachel Yankey corner was headed away as far as the edge of the area where Smith returned the ball with interest, crashing a sweetly struck left foot shot off the inside of the far post and into the back of the net.
Watts was just off target with a chip at the other end but Arsenal had the bit between their teeth now and stunned the home side with two more magnificent goals in quick succession. First, following a good run and pass by Jordan Nobbs, Yankey's cross into the area was nodded down by Danielle Carter for Smith to turn the ball past Earps from six yards.
Three minutes later and the comeback was complete. Although Academy had initially won a corner, Leah Williamson's clearing header released Nobbs who showed great pace down the right before sliding an inch perfect pass into the path of Alex Scott, who had run the entire length of the pitch, and the full back planted a left foot shot past Earps to put the Gunners in front for the first time.
The skills and brilliance of Smith was wowing a normally partisan home crowd and another terrific move almost brought another goal. Nobbs spread the ball out wide to Yankey, who released an overlapping Emma Mitchell to cross but this time Smith could not force the ball in.
Academy tried to respond with Ingle drilling wide after Jemma Rose and Frankie Brown had combined to set up a chance but moments later, Carter dispossessed Matthews on the edge of the area and the other end and was poleaxed in the area by Rose's challenge. The stage was set for Smith to complete her hat-trick from the spot and she duly sent Earps the wrong way.
The England star now had a hat-trick, having only been on the pitch for 25 minutes of play.
Once more though, Academy did not give up and dragged themselves back into the game. Grace McCatty's flick picked out Natalia in the area where she buried her shot past Byrne to give her side renewed hope.
Arsenal closed ranks from that point though and Academy could not force another opportunity to salvage a point from a pulsating encounter. The night had started with Women's Soccer Scene's Ken Brown being remembered with a minute's applause and it was perhaps appropriate that Smith - surely England's greatest ever player - stole the show with a vintage display.
Bristol Academy: Mary Earps, Grace McCatty, Corinne Yorston, Jaz Matthews, Jemma Rose, Sophie Ingle, Natalia Pablos Sanchon, Angharad James, Frankie Brown (sub Laura Del Rio 70mins), Nikki Watts, Loren Dykes. Subs not used: Cristina Vega Leandro, Alex Windell, Alice Evans, Georgia Evans, Gabriella Bird.
Arsenal: Emma Byrne, Alex Scott, Emma Mitchell, Jade Bailey (sub Yukari Kinga 85mins), Casey Stoney (sub Kelly Smith 41mins), Niamh Fahey, Freda Ayisi (sub Caroline Weir 75mins), Jordan Nobbs, Danielle Carter, Leah Williamson, Rachel Yankey. Subs not used: Shinobu Ohno, Siobhan Chamberlain, Vyan Sampson, Carla Humphrey.
(top) Nikki Watts takes on Niamh Fahey
(middle) Mary Earps makes a save at the feet of Leah Williamson
(bottom) Kelly Smith in a battle with Corinne Yorston and Jemma Rose
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