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Aston Villa 1 (Wilkinson 56) London Bees 1 (Popadinova 41)
The spoils were shared as Aston Villa and London Bees battled out an entertaining draw in their WSL 2 mid-table clash at Sutton Coldfield.
Villa could have been ahead with just a minute on the clock after Maddy Cusack chipped the ball over the Bees defence for an unmarked Kerri Welsh who took a touch but blazed her shot over the bar from around eight yards out.
London Bees settled down well from this point and passed the ball around confidently with Emma Beckett and Becky Anderson prompting matters in midfield. They produced their first opportunity when Beckett's free kick was headed on by Deanna Cooper and Chloe Beattie tipped over the bar.
Villa were finding it difficult to get going, their best chances coming through a long range effort from Welsh which flew just past the post after good work from Beth Merrick, then Mollie Rouse headed wide from Hannah George's cross.
Bees were dominating matters at this stage though, but could not break through a determined Villa defence. Evdokia Popadinova was played through by Beckett's pass but she was denied twice, first by a block from George and then Beattie saved from the rebound. Nikki Watts drilled a shot on the turn narrowly over and a Paula Howells corner was met by Beckett whose header was well saved by Beattie and Chloe Jones was able to clear.
Four minutes before half time, Bees' efforts finally brought reward albeit from an error in the Villa defence. George's back pass was seized upon by Watts and although Beattie was able to save her shot, Popadinova was on hand to steer the rebound into the empty net.
Villa tried to hit back with a good run and shot by Cusack which was saved but Bees were fully worthy of their lead going into the break.
The Villa team were out early for the second half and looked a different side during the early stages of the second half. A good pass from Katie Wilkinson set up Merrick who dragged her shot wide but five minutes later, they levelled the scores in spectacular style.
After Sydney Hinchcliffe was penalised for handball 25 yards from goal, Wilkinson stepped up to curl a delightful free kick over the wall and out of the reach of Sophie Harris for the equaliser.
Bees almost hit back straight away with a low cross by Howells which was diverted towards her own goal by Jones but Beattie did well to turn the ball past the post at full stretch. Back came Villa with Rouse bursting into the area before firing her shot wide.
The impressive Howells had been a constant threat to Villa on the left, her battle with Villa full back Hayley Crackle being a feature of the game, but she passed up a great chance to put her side back in front after playing a neat one-two with Watts but shot well over with only Beattie to beat.
The game continued to flow from end to end, Amy West bringing out a save from Harris following Wilkinson's lay off and the same player was to be denied again six minutes later, Merrick's corner being met by West whose sidefooted volley brought out a great instinctive stop by the Bees keeper.
Harris excelled herself once again with an excellent one handed save from a well struck shot by Sarah Mayling as both teams went all out for victory. Howells once again made a strong run at the other end and her low cross saw a vital interception by Jones, who managed to prevent Ashleigh Goddard from what would have been a tap in.
Howells shot wide following a good pass from Goddard, before both teams had opportunities in injury time. After defending a corner, a pinpoint long ball from Merrick was raced onto by Tash Baptiste, who held off a challenge before lobbing Harris but her effort was just too high. Watts threatened to break through at the other end but Beattie was quickly off her line to make a smothering save and ensure that the game finished level.
Aston Villa: Chloe Beattie, Hayley Crackle, Hannah George, Chloe Jones, Elisha N'Dow, Mollie Rouse (sub Alys Hinchcliffe 70mins), Sarah Mayling, Maddy Cusack (sub Tash Baptiste 79mins), Katie Wilkinson, Kerri Welsh (sub Amy West 60mins), Beth Merrick. Subs not used: Jess Myers, Lucy Porter, Grace Smith.
London Bees: Sophie Harris, Manuela Napria, Sophie Fogarty, Becky Anderson, Deanna Cooper, Sydney Hinchcliffe, Emma Beckett, Evdokia Popadinova, Nikki Watts, Ashleigh Goddard, Paula Howells. Subs not used: Imogen Riches, Merrick Will, Andria Georgiou, Zemeka Clarke.
(top) Beth Merrick takes on Manuela Napria
(middle) Maddy Cusack is challenged by Ashleigh Goddard
(bottom) Hayley Crackle under pressure from Paula Howells
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