Bristol City 0-3 Chelsea: Spirited Robins defeated in pre-Christmas rout

Looking to move three points clear at the top of the Barclays Women’s Super League table after Arsenal’s defeat in the North London Derby on Saturday, Emma Hayes’ Chelsea travelled to Ashton Gate Stadium on Sunday to face Bristol City. Lauren Smith’s side are winless since their 2-3 victory against West Ham in early November, with Chelsea also struggling for form after defeat to Arsenal and a midweek draw to Häcken.

BCI: Clark; Mustaki, Connolly, Layzell, Powell; Harrison, Jones, Rodgers, Morgan, Napier; Thestrup

CHE: Hampton; Charles, Ingle, Carter, Lawrence; Cuthbert, Nüsken; James, Reiten, Kirby; Kerr

The opening fifteen minutes at Ashton Gate were played at a frenetic pace, with chances aplenty for both sides – perhaps unexpectedly given the gulf that separates them in the standings. An early off-target chance for Sjoeke Nüsken was swiftly followed by another effort sent wide of the post by Erin Cuthbert, but a fabulous Bristol City cross from the right flank soon sparked Lauren Smith’s side into life.

While the initial target failed to connect with the threatening cross at the near post, Abi Harrison did well to recycle it, attempting to get a shot off before being denied by a well-placed defender. It would perhaps give the Robins that extra motivation they needed, with Naomi Layzell sliding in expertly just minutes later to prevent Sam Kerr from getting her shot off.

But Chelsea’s quality would shine through eventually, and it was a moment of individual brilliance from Lauren James that saw Emma Hayes’ side take the lead in emphatic style. From outside the box, the England international unleashed a thunderous strike – flying past Olivia Clark and rippling the back of the net as the away end burst into raptures.

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Forced to shift into a three-at-the-back formation at times as a result of Brooke Aspin being loan-tied, the home defence were often overwhelmed by Chelsea’s sudden bursts of pace – and when Fran Kirby teed up Kerr in the 21st minute, the floodgates looked set to open. The Australian could only find the side netting though.

With ten minutes remaining before the interval, Chelsea got their second goal. While not quite as pretty as the first, Cuthbert made amends for her earlier miss as she planted her shot from inside the box past Clark – ensuring the Blues lead felt a little more comfortable after a sustained period of dominance from the Robins.

As has been the case in many of the Robins league contests this season, there was a feeling that perhaps a two-goal deficit didn’t reflect their first-half performance. Ffion Morgan came close to halving that gap just before the break after finding herself one-on-one with Hannah Hampton – though the Chelsea debutant, afforded a starting berth due to an illness affecting Ann-Katrin Berger, came out on top.

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Much like Morgan’s squandered first-half opportunity, the Robins were presented with another chance to halve Chelsea’s advantage – but face-to-face with Hampton, Harrison could only shoot straight at the ‘keeper, who was able to smother the ball before Amalie Thestrup could slot home into an empty net.

Ten minutes into the half, James attempted the spectacular once again in a move that very nearly paid off for the visitors, as her curling strike from range struck the corner of the woodwork. Clark did well to claim the rebound before an arriving blue shirt could arrive on scene, in the first real nervy moment of the half for Lauren Smith’s side.

Perhaps predictably though, the floodgates would open once more eventually and it was none other than Kerr to nab Chelsea’s third goal of the game just before the hour mark. Arriving at the back post to head home from Guro Reiten’s cross, the Australian left Clark with no chance of making the save.

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Maika Hamano looked set for a debut assist as her probing ball over the top of the Bristol City defence picked out Aggie Beever-Jones at the back post – but under little pressure, the England youth international blazed her shot high and wide of Clark’s goal.

A late recurrence of an earlier injury saw Clark leave the field in the dying minutes, replaced by Benedictine Haaland. She was immediately called upon to deny a curling strike from Beever-Jones that appeared destined for the bottom-right corner, parrying it away well to avert the danger.

The drama was far from over though, with Niamh Charles seeing red for a second bookable offence deep in stoppage time. Having wrestled a Bristol City player in the first half, a reckless challenge saw her receive her marching orders.

Having ultimately seen out a rather comfortable victory in BS3, Chelsea move three points clear of Arsenal at the helm of the Barclays Women’s Super League table. For Bristol City, they remain 11th – but will drop into the sole relegation spot should West Ham register at least a point against Leicester City.