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Vixens Progress To Quarter Finals

Bristol Academy 1-1 Barcelona (Bristol Academy win 2-1 on aggregate)

Bristol Academy reached the quarter finals of the Champions League for the first time in their history this evening after a thrilling game with Barcelona at Ashton Gate.

Bristol Academy reached the quarter finals of the Champions League for the first time in their history this evening after a thrilling game with Barcelona at Ashton Gate.

Bristol Academy’s starting line-up remained unchanged from their first leg heroics in Barcelona as they looked to protect a 1-0 aggregate lead. But it was Barcelona’s Losada who brought the score level just before half time following a dubious refereeing decision that marred the first half and left the 2,457-strong crown at Ashton Gate angered. Academy came out in the second half and showed great resolve and energy to regain control of the tie before Natasha Harding was felled in the box to win a penalty ten minutes from time, which Nikki Watts calmly tucked away. The draw took the Vixens into the Champions League quarter finals for the first time in their history and left many wondering how far the Vixens can go in the competition of Europe’s elite.

Barcelona took control of the game from the off, mirroring a technical style that has become synonymous with the men’s side. High pressing and neat passing often cut open the Vixens defence between full back and centre half, resulting in several corners and chances but some last-gasp defending kept the Spanish side at bay.

Academy came under a lot of pressure down their left, where Marta Corredera caused all sorts of problems and looked the obvious outlet for Barcelona. But it was Corinne Yorston’s speculative cross that hit the post which gave Academy a rare bit of breathing space after a short period where they had kept the ball in the opposition’s half. Good link-up play between Yorston and Angharad James saw a ball across the box narrowly miss the flailing Natasha Harding, who couldn’t arrive at the ball before the Barca defender.

Shortly after, Jasmine Matthews seemed harshly booked as she cleverly read a through ball, which then fell on her arm at the edge of the box. The resulting free-kick deflected back off the wall, only for Maria Losada to swing a connecting boot as the ball fortuitously ricocheted in past a wrong-footed Mary Earps. As the half time whistle blew several Academy players went to question the Russian referee over what seemed a harsh decision that ultimately led to the goal.

Academy started the second-half with real verve and within the first minute Harding looked certain to put the Vixens back in the lead as she scrambled to get on the end of a ball that had cleared defenders and ‘keeper but then the Welsh international too.

Play continued to be dominated by Academy and a tactical change saw Laura Del Rio come on for Corinne Yorston and the team set up in what looked like a diamond formation. The change caused immediate problems for Barcelona, who took a while to acclimatise, and a wonderful strike from a previously quiet Natalia Pablos Sanchon from 30 yards crashed off the bar. Shortly after Sophie Ingle was scythed down just outside the area as Barcelona looked at sixes and sevens. The following free-kick was in the danger area and encouraged moans from the crowd, only to eventually be gathered by a nervous-looking Laura Rafols in goal.

Mary Earps then produced a stunning one handed saved high to her left to keep out a 25-yard piledriver from the visitors, to keep Bristol in the game.

The second goal of the night deservedly came for the Vixens, as some good play to get out of their defensive third saw Grace McCatty release Harding, who cut between the two defenders but was brought down in the area. Nikki Watts, who had scored an excellent penalty in the previous round away at Raheny United, stepped up again and dispatched to the left of the clamouring Rafols.

A frantic last ten minutes ensued and Jemma Rose’s clearance went the wrong way and nearly beat Earps in what were nervous last moments. Earps then gave the supporters some more nervous moments as she let a deflected Barcelona through ball out for a corner and missed the resulting ball in, only for a superb Grace McCatty to again clear off the line.

The night ended on a high as the final whistle blew and sent Academy into the Women’s Champions League quarter finals for the first time in their history and as the last English team in the competition.