Bristol City 3-7 Brighton: Seagulls survive near-miracle comeback in ten-goal relegation clash

Brighton travelled to Bristol City’s Ashton Gate on Sunday for a critical clash in the battle to avoid relegation. Both sides have been in poor league form since the winter break, and will have been keenly aware that a Brighton win would take the Seagulls eight points clear of the bottom spot – but a Bristol victory could narrow that gap to just two points. 

BCI: Clark, Morgan, Aspin, Connolly, Struck, Powell, Rodgers, Syme, Jones, Evans, Thestrup

BHA: Baggaley, Thorisdottir, Bergsvand, Losada, Sarri, Bremer, Zigiotti, Terland, Kullberg, Pinto, Robinson.

The opening ten minutes saw Mikey Harris’ side under consistent pressure in their own half; the Robins had plenty of the ball, but were frustrated by a lack of clear-cut chances. Somewhat against the run of play, it was the visitors who had the first real chance on goal, but it was deflected behind for a Veatriki Sarri corner that was calmly dealt with by the Bristol City defence.

There was plenty of space on the Ashton Gate grass for both sides, and around the ten-minute mark the game truly opened up. As Brighton settled into the game, it was a far more even contest in the middle of the park. The first shot on goal came from Elisabeth Terland but was easily collected by Olivia Clark, who returned to the Bristol City lineup after impressing on international duty with Wales.

Just seconds later, the Norwegian’s neat footwork set up an opportunity for Sarri; it was sent wide, but all of a sudden the chances were coming thick and fast for Brighton. Almost inevitably, Terland was able to pull the trigger before there were twenty minutes on the clock – yet another corner from the Seagulls found her unmarked for a simple finish at the back post, which she slammed into the net.

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Brighton were at this point dominating possession – but Bristol City very quickly reminded their opposition that there was plenty of distance for them to go, with Carrie Jones hitting an impressive swerving effort from outside the box just two minutes after they had gone behind. Sophie Baggaley was forced to dive to her left to stop the home side equalising only two minutes after Brighton’s opener.

Devastatingly for Lauren Smith’s spirited side, Pauline Bremer doubled Brighton’s lead almost immediately. Slipping loose of her marker, Bremer’s first effort hit the woodwork – but she reacted well to execute what was then an easy strike, with Clark on the ground from her dive for the first shot. Despite the Robins’ promising start, all of a sudden they trailed by two goals.

The players were a credit to manager Lauren Smith in their response; with an impressive home crowd behind them, they continued to push their way up the pitch. Carrie Jones and Lisa Evans both had their chances before the half hour mark, kept at bay by Baggaley. City’s attackers continued to scrap and press, winning the ball deep in Brighton’s half at times. With only seconds to play they had their best opportunity yet: Evans’ cross led to efforts by both Jones and Threstrup, but all to no avail. Bristol City couldn’t convert their efforts into a goal and the first period ended 2-0 to Brighton.

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The hosts enjoyed what looked like a dream start to the second period, seemingly blowing the game – and the relegation battle – right open. Ex-Brighton player Megan Connolly’s freekick from just outside the box sent the players and crowd into raptures, as Bristol’s captain executed her shot perfectly, driving the ball out of Baggaley’s reach and into the top right corner.

But Brighton restored their lead two-goal lead within a few minutes, with their top scorer’s second of the afternoon. A series of chaotic deflections from Sarri’s cross eventually led the ball to Terland’s feet; her colleagues immediately cleared the way for her to pounce on the opportunity and slam the ball home. Bristol City’s perfect start to the second half was agonisingly undone.

Shania Hayles and Jasmine Bull were introduced with half an hour to play, replacing Emily Syme and Lisa Evans as Bristol City looked desperately to get back into the game – but it was in vain. Elisabeth Terland’s effort for a hattrick was deflected wide, leading to a corner from which Tatiana Pinto scored her first Brighton goal, and her team’s fourth of the afternoon. 

At 4-1 down with three-quarters of the game gone, a lesser team than Bristol City might have crumbled – but quite the opposite occurred. Brooke Aspin gave her team a lifeline just six minutes after Pinto’s goal, rising above several defenders at the back post to put herself on the scoresheet, and Bristol back in the game.

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Only moments later, Ffion Morgan drove into the box to set up Amelie Thestrup for her second of the game, raising the roof of Ashton Gate and reducing the deficit, which moments ago had seemed a death sentence, to just the solitary goal.

Had Mikey Harris had a crystal ball before Bristol’s third goal, he might not have been planning to take off Elisabeth Terland and Veatriki Sarri – but the changes went ahead, taking some of Brighton’s most potent attackers out of the equation. The game looked utterly transformed with only fifteen minutes remaining, and Bristol City had the bit between their teeth. With the momentum so strongly in their favour, a chaotic scramble in Brighton’s box looked almost certain to yield an equaliser – but the ball was kept out. 

With ten minutes to find an equaliser that could keep their hopes of staying in the WSL alive, Bristol showed the best of their defensive grit. Brighton, after recovering from their initial shock, mounted attacks that warranted crunching, but brilliantly executed, last ditch tackles. 

The Ashton Gate crowd were praying for a miracle – but in the 88th minute, their hopes were dealt a real blow. Brighton’s Katie Robinson burst through the defence on the right hand side and played in the substitute Madison Haley, whose first goal for the club couldn’t have come at a better time – once again, Bristol were two behind.

Bristol City already seemed to have come back from the grave twice in this game – but a third killer blow proved too much. Even with ten minutes added on, they couldn’t reply to Brighton’s ruthless finishing. In stoppage time, Brighton managed to widen their lead even further – Robinson was adjudged to have been unfairly brought down in the box and Vicky Losada calmly scored the resulting penalty to restore Brighton’s three-goal lead. There was even more heartache to come – Robinson capitalised on an open net to get her name on the scoresheet after 96 minutes. 

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A 3-7 loss was a devastating result for a Bristol City side who, despite giving absolutely everything, stay bottom of the table and five points adrift of West Ham. Brighton, though, are now eight points clear of the relegation place, and will surely feel optimistic heading into the last seven games of the season.

Both teams have Manchester United as their next opponent – Brighton host the Red Devils next weekend in the Adobe Women’s FA Cup, while Bristol will face them in the league on Sunday 17th March.