Aston Villa Ladies took on Brighton & Hove Albion in the sunshine today at their home ground in Tamworth. Both teams started off determined to take the points to push themselves up the WSL2 Table. In the starting minutes Villa looked threatening as they moved up towards goal while Brighton were instinctive in their response.
The first chance of the game came for Villa when centre-back Jade Richards belted the ball forward to meet forward Kerri Welsh. It looked promising from the home side as the striker maintained the pace to keep up with the ball despite being denied by Brighton goalkeeper Emma Byrne with a low save. The Seagulls made an instant response by intercepting passes in midfield and passing effectively. Villa's defence persisted to keep the home side in the game with a free-kick being awarded to Brighton in their efforts. Sophie Perry stepped up to take the shot from just yards outside the box but the four bodied wall meant she had to drive it left and low. This was no trouble for Villa goalkeeper Claire Skinner who easily caught the powerful shot.
The game progressed with good football from both sides in what looked to be an evenly matched game. A cross from Hannah George was caught by Byrne who collided with Maddy Cusack inside the first ten minutes. As she was treated the teams were seen to be struggling with the heat of the afternoon as they took a moment to find shade and keep hydrated. As the game got back underway George proved herself to be a prominent figure up front, looking to get past the defence with skill and determination. Although there were an increasing amount of efforts from both sides there was no change to the score line in the early moments.
Brighton continued to power forward and Jenna Legg provided the pace on the right, making breaks into the box and linking well with Bronwen Thomas who struck the ball toward goal with Skinner pushing it wide. Shots from Villa began to look predictable as they came in strong but low and easily swept up by Byrne. On the other side of the pitch Skinner kept Villa in the game as shots after shots were driven at the goal.
A long ball was played into the Brighton box against the run of play and an unfortunate defensive error meant that the ball passed over to Welsh. She saw the ball across the goal line after lining up to lob the ball gently over Byrne just after half an hour of play.
The Seagulls seemed to have the edge on the home side up until this point and suddenly began to fall apart. They conceded a corner and Beth Merrick was quick to curl the ball into the box for Baptiste to head it at the top of the net but it was safely pushed over by the Brighton goalkeeper. The referee awarded a goal kick despite appeals from the players and the home crowd but Villa's bad luck stopped there.
Minutes after the first goal, the ball was whipped back into the box and a goalmouth scramble saw Cusack shoot into the left corner as Baptiste made sure the ball crossed the line. With the second half closing Welsh and Baptiste were connecting effectively to put Brighton under pressure.
The second half got off to a quick start with a corner awarded to Villa in the first few minutes. The home side were looking to secure their win as Merrick swung the ball in only to find the hands of the keeper after a weak strike. Brighton were pressing to equalise and looked fresh after the break but their determination mostly came to nothing but missed chances.
Substitutions began with the home side making a change first. Hannah George was replaced by Lucy Shepherd who looked to provide another goal with an impressive curling shot on goal from distance, ultimately saved by Byrne. There was also a double substitution for the visitors with Lucy Somes and Charlotte Young changing for Amy Taylor and Ellie Dorey. Villa captain Beth Merrick was keen to live up to her role as the heart of the team as Villa avoided taking a back seat in the match. Providing clever passes to those in space and bypassing the defence effortlessly alongside her quick thinking makes her a huge asset to the Ladies. Later in the match she took a quick corner short to Lucy Porter who ran in to supply the cross from the right. The ball was delivered to Baptiste who hit it against the right post. Cusack came in on the rebound to smash the ball against the crossbar while Welsh's final shot disappeared over the net.
Villa continued to create chances through the right midfield with through balls from the defence assisting the cause. The home side found themselves unlucky at the back in the 67th minute as Villa conceded to a bottom corner strike from Thomas after a ground cross was provided to the midfielder. This didn't affect Villa's attacking mentality and they were awarded a few corners in the minutes that followed. A driving header from Baptiste showed how she was a key player in the box for this match, continuing to be a menacing figure in front of the goal mouth. Another substitution from Villa saw Cusack come off for Chloe Dale.
Brighton kept up the tempo and continued to create chances for themselves by chasing the ball and following up crosses as they pressed for an equaliser. Villa also looked to increase their lead as Dale provided the much needed boost with a fresh set of legs near the box. Welsh looked to score as she drove a swinging shot towards goal near the end of the match but it was wide of the post. Alys Hinchcliffe replaced the goalscorer who ran off to a round of applause from the supporting crowd in the home side's final change. This was met by a final substitution for the Seagulls as Legg was replaced with Olding.
Lucy Shepherd made a dash across the pitch to find herself in the box, shooting twice at goal only to be denied by an awkward ball bounce. In the dying minutes the home crowd were on the edge of their seats when Brighton were awarded a free kick with not much time left for an equaliser. However the home side were determined to keep the points they deserved and the defence cleared the ball away safely to find Baptiste in midfield. Baptiste linked well with Merrick on the far right who sprinted down the line to find Baptiste at the edge of the box. The striker confirmed three points for the Ladies as she hammered the ball into the left corner in the 87th minute. One last effort from Brighton came from distance as the midfield made a last ditch attempt to curl the ball into the top corner. Skinner dived high but there was no need as the ball landed in the stands.
Aston Villa sit comfortably at third in the WSL2 table after this win while Brighton and Hove Albion position themselves at eighth. AVLFC will be back in action on 16th April as they play Everton Ladies, who are just fourth in the table, away from home at the Select Security Stadium. Meanwhile, Albion will play next on the same day at home against Watford Ladies. Kick-off for both games will be 14:00 GMT.