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Bristol Academy 0 Birmingham City 3 (Lawley 37, Carney pen 39, pen 61)
Birmingham City have taken a huge stride towards safety in WSL 1 after winning the crucial encounter against relegation rivals Bristol Academy at Stoke Gifford.
The margin of defeat was rough on an Academy side who had had the better of the game for much of the first half, before the turning point came via a stunning save from Sophie Baggaley which denied what had looked a certain goal for Jade Boho-Sayo.
Academy started the better of the two sides and carried the game to the Blues during the opening stages and were close to taking the lead when Angharad James fired a 20-yard shot inches wide. The Birmingham defence were looking unusually nervous early on and a minute later, they were grateful to Alex Windell who made a crucial clearance to foil Boho-Sayo after Christie Murray had dispossessed Kerys Harrop on the goal line.
Birmingham produced their first opportunity when Emily Westwood headed wide from a Kirsty Linnett cross and Karen Carney lobbed a shot over the bar after controlling a long ball from Windell on her chest.
With Caroline Weir pulling the strings in midfield, the home side continued to pour forward though and thought they had gone in front when Boho-Sayo got behind the Birmingham defence and broke through on goal. The striker's shot was arrowing inside the far post but Baggaley produced a brilliant fingertip save to keep the ball out.
The save was to look even more important ten minutes later when Linnett's ball over the top was latched onto by Melissa Lawley, who kept her cool with only Mary Earps to beat and the winger slid the ball past her to give her side the lead against the run of play.
Birmingham were to strike another huge blow just two minutes later. This time, Carney broke down the left and her cross struck the hand of Hannah Short. A penalty was awarded a Carney sent Earps the wrong way from the spot to double her side's lead.
Academy tried to hit back before half time and went close again from a corner when Boho-Sayo's header was blocked on the line by Jess Carter and Baggaley was able to dive and gather following a scramble.
Sophie Ingle was narrowly off target with a lob early in the second half and then the impressive Baggaley made another important smothering save at the feet of Murray after a Boho-Sayo shot had been deflected into her path.
Weir then went even closer with a long range strike which dipped over Baggaley but struck the bar.
Birmingham were looking much sharper on the attack themselves in the second half and Linnett was starting to show her best form up front. The striker was the instigator for the third goal, producing an excellent piece of control from a clearance before turning past Hayley Ladd and finding Carney who was brought down by Frankie Brown for another penalty. Carney picked herself up and although Earps went the right way this time, the kick was too powerful and found the roof of the net.
The luckless Weir once again crashed a shot against the bar from distance but Birmingham were now in control and could have added to their lead.
First, Carney's floated free kick into the area was met by a volley from Westwood and Earps made a good save low to her right. Carney, looking for her hat-trick, then drilled a powerful shot goalwards but was denied by an excellent stop from Earps who turned the ball over the bar.
The margin between the two sides has now been stretched to five points and Birmingham are not yet mathematically safe, although it will now need a huge turnaround if Academy are to make an escape.
Bristol Academy: Mary Earps, Loren Dykes, Frankie Brown, Sophie Ingle, Marije Brummel (sub Evdokia Popadinova 67mins), Hannah Short, Caroline Weir, Hayley Ladd (sub Nadia Lawrence 67mins), Christie Murray, Angharad James, Jade Boho-Sayo (sub Sharla Passariello 78mins). Subs not used: Hannah Reid, Lauren Townsend, Tatiana Pinto, Georgia Evans.
Birmingham City: Sophie Baggaley, Alex Windell, Jess Carter, Emily Westwood, Aoife Mannion, Kerys Harrop, Melissa Lawley, Remi Allen (sub Chloe Peplow 81mins), Kirsty Linnett (sub Charlie Wellings 90mins), Karen Carney (sub Freda Ayisi 90mins), Jo Potter. Subs not used: Meaghan Sargeant, Cheryl Edwards, Cristina Torkildsen, Coral Haines.
(top) Emily Westwood tries to close down Caroline Weir
(middle) Sophie Baggaley makes a tremendous save to keep out Jade Boho-Sayo's shot
(bottom) Kirsty Linnett turns away from Hayley Ladd
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