Ebony Salmon proved pivotal again in Bristol City’s quest to survive, as her late goal resulted in the Vixens picking up a valuable three points in the WSL against the Royals. Rachel Rowe thought she had rescued a 2-2 draw for Kelly Chambers’ side, but City’s top scorer stepped up again when she was most needed. And this time, it was under the big lights of Ashton Gate instead of the substandard Twerton Park - a stadium in Bath where Bristol City had played the majority of their home games up until tonight.
On International Women’s Day it was Bristol City who started the game on the front foot, with Ebony Salmon nearly nicking in front of goalkeeper Grace Moloney following a ball in behind the defence from the right-hand side. Luckily for the Royals, Moloney managed to claim the ball to smoother any danger of City taking the lead within the first minute.
Both sides really started with high intensity, but it was the Royals who took the lead in the 13th minute after a mix-up at the back for Bristol City resulted in young striker Emma Harries rolling her effort into an open net. That goal was Harries’ first ever for Reading. Maybe that can be the start of many more for the 18-year-old forward.
The home side looked to find an instant response, but it was Kelly Chambers’ Royals who nearly added a second a minute later. Danielle Carter’s weaving run and shot was saved well by Sophie Baggaley. Bristol City’s number one was the hero of the game at the Madejski Stadium earlier this season in the 1-1 draw.
However, the hosts’ early intensity paid off in the 23rd minute when Salmon’s through ball was finished clinically by City attacker Charlie Wellings who levelled the game at Ashton Gate early on.
A basketball type of encounter continued throughout the first half, with both teams creating good chances. Young Royals striker Emma Harries had the bit between her teeth after scoring her debut goal for the club, and she was unlucky not to find the net again in the 32nd minute when her goal-bound effort was deflected over the bar.
Down the other end, top scorer Ebony Salmon squandered a great chance to put her team 2-1 up right before half-time. But she took too long to get her shot away and as a result, Reading managed to crowd her out before she was able to shoot.
1-1 at half-time reflected the half well with both teams wasting golden chances to go back in front. Were we about to see the same outcome as we did earlier this season at the Madejski Stadium?
The Royals came out with a real eagerness to take the game to the home side at the start of the second half. Solid defending by the likes of Laura Rafferty prevented Reading retaking the lead early on in the second period. However, a corner kick in the 57th minute proved to be the key to the game being unlocked again for the third time.
A well-worked corner from the Vixens resulted in Jemma Purfield eventually curling her effort over Grace Moloney and into the top of the net to put City in front for the first time in this contest.
The Reading manager immediately reacted to the setback of going behind in the second half by bringing on forward Amalie Eikeland. That sub from the Royals’ boss nearly paid dividends straight away after a free kick fell to an onrushing and unmarked Eikeland at the back post, but she could only find the side netting on this occasion.
A big chance not taken again for Reading. A key theme of the season so far for the side from Berkshire. Was that trait of not being able to take chances about to cost Reading again?
Well, it wasn’t on this occasion. A super ball over the top of the City defence from the experienced Fara Williams was latched upon by top scorer Rowe who smashed her effort into the top corner of the net. That goal in the 72nd minute was Rowe’s fourth goal of this FAWSL season. What a season she is having for the Royals.
Unbelievably the Royals had to pick themselves up again minutes later after Ebony Salmon scored her sixth goal of the season in the 78th minute, after Abi Harrison dissected the Reading defence with a lovely ball over the top. Chambers looked up to the empty stands in disbelief after seeing her side picked apart again so shortly after levelling the game.
Reading’s misery was compounded in added time with goal scorer Rachel Rowe lunging in late on Bristol City centre back Gemma Evans. That challenge unfortunately resulted in Rowe being dismissed.
Player of the match
Despite the disappointing result for Reading, there were a few standout performances. Rachel Rowe yet again impressed in the Reading attack, but it was youngster Emma Harries who stood out especially in the first half.
With the academy graduate scoring her first goal for the first team, she can certainly leave with her head held high. In fact, the 18 year-old was unlucky not to have at least two goals in this encounter. Her hold-up play helped Reading build and sustain attacks, and she certainly is a player to look out for in the future.
Implications of the result and what’s next for both teams
Those three points were huge for Bristol City as they climb out of the relegation zone momentarily at the expense of West Ham.
For Reading, they remain in sixth place with any ambitions of European football evaporating after this loss. The Royals are back in action on Sunday, with Tottenham Hotspur the visitors to the Madejski Stadium.
Meanwhile, Bristol City face the daunting task of hosting title chasing Manchester City at home on Wednesday March 7. But before that, the Vixens have the Continental Cup final on Sunday to contest against another title contender for this year’s FAWSL in the form of Chelsea FC Women.