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Bristol City 0 Everton 1 (Kelly pen 8)
Everton gave their WSL 2 promotion hopes a huge shot in the arm when a controversial penalty gave them three vital points against second placed Bristol City at Stoke Gifford.
It was a scrappy match of very few chances, not helped by a shocking refereeing performance, but Everton defended superbly to nullify the home side and end their unbeaten home record in the league.
After a slow start to the game, it was the visitors who were handed a great chance from a corner when Flo Allen was adjudged to have fouled Claudia Walker although the challenge appeared to be innocuous. Both sets of players looked to be bemused by the decision but Chloe Kelly composed herself well to step up and send Caitlin Leach the wrong way from the penalty spot.
City tried hard to respond to the setback, driven on by Chloe Arthur in midfield, but Everton's well organised back four ensured that goalkeeper Kirstie Levell was well protected and she was never really stretched during the first half. Vicky Jones in particular had a fine match at right back against City danger woman Claire Emslie.
Everton relied on breaks and counter attacks and one almost resulted in a second goal, Kelly finding space in the area and curling a shot goalwards but Leach pulled off a fine diving save to keep the ball out.
At the other end, Emslie whipped in a dangerous cross but no City player was in the area to take advantage and this proved to be a rare opportunity for the home side as Everton snuffed out any further attacks, taking their one-goal lead into the interval.
Everton were first on the attack at the start of the second half and Leach needed to be quick off her line to clear as Walker bore down on goal. The ball went straight to Michelle Hinnigan who cleverly tried to lob back goalwards but her effort lacked sufficient power and Leach was able to gather safely.
The home side replied with Megan Alexander hitting the side netting from a tight angle after getting on the end of a Jodie Brett free kick.
City had struggled to get their passing game going but produced a fine flowing move just after the hour mark. Charlie Estcourt released Emslie on the left and her low cross looked certain to produce a goal but Arthur and Olivia Fergusson were denied as first Levell bravely saved and Gabby George blocked on the line before Georgia Brougham hacked the ball clear to end the scramble.
George had been excellent in the centre of the Everton defence and she could have crowned her performance with a goal. Hinnigan's corner picked out an unmarked George at the far post but she sent her header harmlessly over the bar.
The home side were forced to press forward and another good block foiled the lively Fergusson, who also had a goal disallowed for a foul on Levell. Everton once more stood firm under the increasing pressure and Levell's handling was faultless when called into action.
As the game went into injury time, another counter attack almost led to a second for Everton. Rosella Ayane broke down the right and her low centre picked out Hinnigan on the edge of the area, the Toffees skipper's shot beating the dive of Leach but Grace McCatty was well placed to clear off the line.
Back came City and Arthur seized on a loose pass and worked an opening, her low shot looked destined for the bottom corner but Levell dived full length to get a hand to it.
This was the last opportunity in seven minutes of injury time and Everton held out for three valuable points which opened up the promotion race once more.
Bristol City: Caitlin Leach, Flo Allen (sub Paige Sawyer 59mins), Megan Alexander, Jodie Brett, Grace McCatty, Hayley Ladd, Chloe Arthur, Charlie Estcourt, Loren Dykes, Olivia Fergusson, Claire Emslie. Subs not used: Hannah Reid, Eloise Wilson, Georgia Evans, Katie Jones, Poppy Wilson.
Everton: Kirstie Levell, Vicky Jones, Danielle Turner, Megan Finnigan, Gabby George, Georgia Brougham, Krystle Johnston (sub Rosella Ayane 77mins), Michelle Hinnigan, Claudia Walker, Chloe Kelly, Kelly Jones. Subs not used: Jennifer Myler, Ellie Stewart, Millie Turner, Emily Hollinshead, Lauren Davies.
(top) Chloe Kelly scores from the penalty spot
(middle) Georgia Brougham battles with Olivia Fergusson
(bottom) Danielle Turner clears under pressure from Loren Dykes
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