Saturday, August 27th, 2016
Everton closed the gap on City Women to just two points with victory at the Stoke Gifford Stadium thanks to a contentious refereeing decision.
The complexion of the game changed dramatically in the tenth minute as the referee handed Everton a penalty following a seemingly innocuous challenge in the box.
Everton’s Chloe Kelly made no mistake, confidently dispatching the ball past Caitlin Leach in the Vixens goal.
City boss Willie Kirk had commented on the pressure Everton were facing in the run up to the game, pressure which seemingly continued after kick-off following a tentative start from both sides.
Perhaps not surprisingly for a game in which so much hinged on the result, both sides struggled to find their rhythm early on. Everton seemingly set up to return to Liverpool with a point and make the most of their game in hand in early October.
City controlled possession throughout much of the first-half without ever threatening the Everton goal. The away side meanwhile looked happy enough to soak up the pressure and hit on the break.
These classic away tactics almost paid dividends again in the 18th minute as Leach did well to tip away a curled effort from a tight angle in the box, before the Vixens defence got the ball away from danger.
The rest of the first-half played out without any real action of note – 0-1 to Everton as the sides headed in.
City began the second-half strongly with Megan Alexander firing just wide from Jodie Brett’s deep free kick.
After fifteen more minutes of nip and tuck action, Kirk changed things up, bringing on Paige Sawyer for Flo Allen and moving Olivia Fergusson to the right wing.
This had an instant impact on the game – Sawyer and Fergusson both in the middle of a goal-line melee which somehow ended with the ball being cleared thanks to some brave work from the Everton ‘keeper.
The Vixens began to exert more pressure with the physicality of Sawyer proving a handful for the Toffees defenders, however it was Everton who would have the next chance, a free-header being powered over the bar from a corner in the 69th minute.
As the players began to tire, the game developed into some frantic end-to-end stuff. Fergusson drifted in from the right and connected with Claire Emslie’s fizzing cross, her shot however was blocked well by her marker and the ball cleared.
Fergusson it was again who then managed to hassle her opponent into a mistake deep into the Everton half, before firing in a low cross that was just asking for a touch, which was unfortunately not forthcoming.
The relentless pace of the game continued with Everton centre-back Gabby George dribbling the length of the pitch before curling an effort straight into the grateful hands of Leach.
Leach then had more work to do a minute later as she charged down an Everton breakaway, the ball bobbling loose to the Toffees striker but some excellent defensive pressure stopping Claudia Walker from tapping the ball into the empty net.
Everton were presented with a golden opportunity to put the game to bed in the 85th minute as Grace McCatty’s pass was blocked, the opposition player electing to shoot straight at Leach from 25 yards rather than pass to her better-placed team mate.
The away side were even closer to an equaliser five minutes later, but for an incredible goal-line clearance from McCatty denying what would have been a certain goal.
There was to be one last chance for City to salvage a draw. Chloe Arthur broke clear and hit a fine shot that was destined for the bottom corner, had it not been for the outstretched palm of the Everton ‘keeper who was down like lightning to push the ball to safety.
It’s a first defeat in five for the Vixens who will be hoping that this will be a minor blip in some otherwise good form as we get to the business end of the season.
City have the chance to regain their five-point lead when they take on Watford Ladies at home on Saturday, September 10th before Everton, who have a game in hand, face Oxford United 24 hours later, as the WSL1 promotion race comes down to the wire.