Championship: Crystal Palace take season opener over Bristol City

Kirsty Barton of Crystal Palace.
Kirsty Barton of Crystal Palace scores to put the hosts 3-1 up in the FA Women's Championship match against Bristol City. (Photo by IMAGO / Sports Press Photo)

Crystal Palace and Bristol City faced off in the FA Women’s Championship season opener yesterday. The affair at Hayes Lane was an absolute thriller and a great sign of what the season may hold.

The home side held on for a 4-3 victory, but this match was up for grabs until the final whistle. An early goal, two sets of traded goals, and a late strike provided excitement galore for opening day.

The excitement featured two sides who are very evenly matched hoping for promotion at the end of the term. The Eagles finished seventh in the Championship table last season, and are looking to improve on that with a strong attack.

The Vixens, meanwhile, were relegated from the Women’s Super League and are eager to climb back up to the top tier. Yesterday’s match showed promise from both sides, and areas for improvement as well.

Right from the get-go

The match started off with a bang. Siobhan Wilson made a run into Bristol’s box and was brought down in the first minute. Striker Coral Jade-Haines stepped up and calmly slotted home, giving the home side the lead just two minutes in.

Several minutes of good back-and-forth action passed before Crystal Palace earned a corner in the 16th minute. The ball fell into a scrum at the far post, and Charley Clifford finally knocked it home for a 2-0 Eagles’ lead.

The match continued at an excellent pace, and the Vixens got one back. Miscues by Palace defenders led to a giveaway in the box, and Melissa Johnson cleaned up the mess easily. The visitors looked to go into halftime down 2-1, with momentum on their side.

It was not to be, however. In the blink of an eye, Palace turned defence into offence and regained their two-goal margin. Bristol had earned a corner on Johnson’s blocked shot.

When the corner came in, Palace’s defence cleared it away instantly and sent it to Molly-Mae Sharpe. Streaking down the left side, she spotted Kristy Barton open in front of the goal. Sharpe delivered a perfect pass, and Barton finished it easily.

At three minutes into added time, Palace led 3-1.

Fireworks after the half

After the half, the two teams came out with the same high level of energy. At the 53rd minute mark, Haines picked up the ball just inside the box. Her rocket soared past Bristol keeper Fran Bentley, who had no chance at that shot.

Haines’ brace put the home side up 4-1, and it looked as if Crystal Palace were in for an easy victory.

Bristol City would have none of that. Just four minutes later, Palace keeper Chloe Morgan made a terrible giveaway to City’s Simran Jhamat. The midfielder happily took the gift and put the ball immediately into the back of the net.

Crystal Palace 4, Bristol City 2. The visitors were not going to go away so easily.

Morgan came right back to help her side and regain her confidence. A hard, low shot from just outside the box had eyes for the corner, but the keeper gobbled it up with her best save of the day. Morgan held Bristol at bay for the rest of the half, and the Eagles again looked to have a comfortable win in hand.

A late strike for the visitors

That was, until, extra time. Bristol kept pressing and were rewarded when Agnes Beever-Jones put one home in the 91st minute to bring the visitors within a single goal. Could the Vixens pull a draw in the final minutes of extar time?

They could not. Palace held off Bristol for the remainder and took the three points in their season opener. They next face London City, 1-0 winners over Liverpool in their opener. Bristol is set to go against Lewes on Sunday. The Rooks were unable to play their opener against Charlton due to COVID positive results for the Charlton side.

Looking ahead

The match was a good look for both sides. Crystal Palace manager Dean Davenport has a fast counter-attack and plenty of finishers. He will want to work on the play between his defenders, his keeper, and his defensive midfielders. They did not play poorly by any means, but there is opportunity to improve the communication among these players.

On the other side of the ball, Lauren Smith will have to address the issue that led to Bristol’s relegation – defense. The Vixens give up too many opportunities and these lead to opponent goals regularly. The side gave up a terrifying 72 goals in the WSL last season, nearly four per game. They gave up another four yesterday. They simply cannot hope to be successful unless they can figure out how to stop the onslaught.

At the end of the day, this was a fun match to watch, and a great start to open the 2021/22 Championship season. Here’s to many more exciting matches to come.

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