It’s been a fascinating promotion battle in the FAWSL 2 that came to a nail-biting conclusion on the penultimate weekend of the season. Bristol and Yeovil both secured their path into top-flight football but there was a fair bit of drama along the way. Now all to be decided is where the title will end up in a league that has been thoroughly entertaining throughout.
GOTB Featured Game – Everton v Bristol (Widnes; Saturday 29th October)
Player of the match: Claire Emslie
The stakes had never been higher coming into this game with Everton needing to win to keep their promotion dreams alive. Bristol, meanwhile, knew that a win would see them bounce straight back up into FAWSL 1. Five goals (two of which were immediate contenders for goal of the season) and a late penalty ensured that we got the spectacle to match the occasion.
Everton boss Andy Spence made one change to the side that had beaten Durham in the previous game with Megan Finnigan coming in for Ellie Stewart. On the other side, Willie Kirk, made four changes to the Bristol line up. With Grace McCatty ruled out through injury and Charlie Estcourt’s loan having ended, Frankie Fantom-Brown came into central defence and Flo Allen into midfield. Millie Farrow returned to lead the line in place of Olivia Fergusson while Caitlin Leach replaced Hannah Reid in goal.
The opening minutes of the game were tight although Everton looked to settle quicker. Former Bristol player, Rosella Ayane, was proving particlarly tricky up front and curled an early free kick just over the bar. Minutes later, the Everton forward beat the offside trap to force Leach into an important save.
The breakthrough, therefore, came against the run of play. With almost half an hour played, the visitors took the lead in brilliant fashion through the influential Claire Emslie. Picking up the ball just outside the box, the Bristol forward appeared to stumble before unleashing a swerving effort that gave Kirstie Levell no chance. It was a way to set the tone for the rest of the game.
Their lead only lasted four minutes when the home side were awarded a somewhat dubious penalty for a foul by Brown. In fact, on replay it looked like the free should have been given the other way. With the referee adamant, Claudia Walker stepped up to dispatch the spot kick into the bottom corner and level the score.
Everton’s quick response to falling behind gave the team a new energy as they pushed to take the lead. There was a nervy moment when Leach spilled a curling cross from Danielle Turner before Walker almost doubled her tally with a swerving half-volley. A pause in play for a pitch invader stopped their momentum, however, and it was the Vixens who came closest before the half. Farrow found herself through after a quick break, her lob looked destined for goal only for Vicky Jones’ last ditch header to clear it off the line.
The start of the second half was littered with niggly fouls and stoppages but Bristol took the lead once again with six minutes played. When Finnigan placed a back pass short, Farrow pounced and made no mistake in making it count.
The Vixens could, and probably should, have extended their lead in the minutes following the goal. Eloise Wilson twice broke through and was twice thwarted by good keeping from Levell. They also had a huge penalty shout when Farrow was left in a heap in the box but the referee waved play on. It was not all one way traffic, however, with Everton coming equally close when Krystle Johnston and then Michelle Hinnigan flashed efforts millimetres wide.
It was the visitors who struck the next blow, creating some daylight between the two sides. In the 70th minute, the influential Emslie broke through and hit a superb strike into the top corner. It was her second worldie of the day.
Despite the two-goal cushion, Bristol were beginning to look extremely nervy at the back when cool heads needed to prevail. They let Everton back into it with just five minutes left on the clock when they failed to clear a ball from Gabby George and Danielle Turner was there to stab it home.
The drama did not stop there. Deep into injury time, the referee awarded Everton a penalty for a high foot from Chloe Arthur. Walker stepped up again, knowing the dreams of her team were on her shoulders, but Leach guessed right to get down and save.
With that, the whistle blew and Bristol’s celebrations ensued. To go straight back up is always impressive and Willie Kirk has done a terrific job with the squad all season to get them there.
Other FAWSL 2 games
London Bees 0 v 2 Yeovil Town – The Hive; Sunday 30th October
A hugely successful season has seen Yeovil Town earn a spot in the FAWSL 1 for the 2017-18 season. Jamie’s Sherwood‘s team have been right at the top from the beginning of the year and secured their spot with a 2-0 win over a resilient London Bees side.
Strikes from Kayleigh Green and Nadia Lawrence in the second half were enough to see the Glovers through and start the celebrations. They will want more – the title is still up for grabs – but promotion is a huge achievement for a club that has improved rapidly since the FAWSL 2 was introduced.
Watford 1 v 6 Durham – Berkhamsted FC; Sunday 30th October
Durham are another side that have shone this year and secured fourth spot with an impressive 6-1 win over Watford.
With the Hornets striking the first blow through an Ellie Mason penalty in the first 10 minutes, Durham went on the rampage with a flurry of goals just before the break. Nat Gutteridge, Beth Hepple and Emily Roberts all scored within five minutes to put the Wildcats 3-1 ahead. They did not relent in the second half, adding three more to their tally. Nicola Gibson scored a brace before Mercy Darkoah sealed the victory for the visitors.
Millwall Lionesses 2 v 2 Aston Villa – The Den; Sunday 30th October
The home side took the lead just before the break through an Amber Gaylor goal. Villa hit back, however, early in the second half when Beth Merrick struck. Megan Wynne put the Lionesses into the lead again with 25 minutes to play but the visitors once again showed their resilience when Hannah George headed home in the 89th minute.
Sheffield FC 2 v 1 Oxford United – The Home of Football; Sunday 30th October
It has been an impressive first season for Zoe Johnson‘s Sheffield side who hosted Oxford at the Home of Football on Sunday afternoon. They went 2-0 up courtesy of captain Carla Ward and Rhema Lord-Mears before the visitors hit back deep into injury time though the prolific Ini Umotong. It was too late to mount a comeback, however, as the home side secured fifth spot in the league.