Every point is crucial for Aston Villa Women with Women’s Super League survival on the line.
With three games left this season, Saturday’s draw against Bristol City is being viewed as a point gained rather than two points dropped and a step towards cementing their position in the top-flight.
“We need to be careful that this doesn’t feel like a defeat because we dominated the game in large periods,” said manager Marcus Bignot. “The chances we created and the goal scoring opportunities we got into.
“We’re disappointed in the manner of which we drew the game, but we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t feel like a defeat.
“Like I said, there is loads of positives to take from it and it’s another point in the right direction.”
Villa took the lead early at the Banks’s stadium as a Shania Hayles’ cross was turned into the back of the net off a City defender inside three minutes.
It was arguably one of the best 45 minutes of football Villa have played this year; they remained defensively resolute, were keeping a hold of the ball, and they remained a constant threat going forward.
They extended their lead before the half-time whistle as Natalie Haigh headed in a pin-point ball from Elisha N’Dow, which had seemingly given the Villans firm control of the game.
The second half was a different story as Matt Beard’s side needed a result and they mounted on the pressure, which Villa eventually succumbed to as they conceded two late goals to level the scoreline.
“We didn’t take our chances, it’s as simple as that,” the Villa boss added.
“I always say the third goal is always really important in a game of football, you go 3-0 up and nine times out of ten it’s game over.
“Their first goal was around the 75th minute, it gave them some belief and gave them something to hang on to.
“Even then, the opportunities we had, we still should’ve gone 3-1 and we should’ve pulled away from them again, but that’s football.
“They had to win today, we wanted to win, and we were so close to winning, but it is what it is.
“We’re going into the Birmingham game now which is a real opportunity, it’s our game in hand and it’s a chance to pull away even further as we’re ahead of them on goal difference.”
What a move! @NatHaigh6 finishes off a well worked corner routine!#BarclaysFAWSL pic.twitter.com/9PQ3aySHK1— Barclays FA Women's Super League (@BarclaysFAWSL) April 24, 2021
Relegation battles are never easy. Often, managers will turn to their more experienced heads in the squad – but Bignot has opted for youth over experience and it’s paying off.
Villa are a young squad, but Freya Gregory (18) and Olivia McLoughlin (16) have both started in the team’s last three league games and haven’t looked out of place.
“They’re a joy to work with and they’re good players,” Bignot said.
“In my time here, I’ve seen enough in these players to show me that they understand the game and they’re knowledgeable.
“I don’t look at age, I just look at the players and it so happens that they are young and they’re in their teens, Liv is still at school doing her exams.
“But their performances say it all.”
: Full debut for @Livmcloughlin15— Aston Villa Women (@AVWFCOfficial) April 5, 2021
: Full debut for @FreyaGregory11
Our #WSLAcademy graduates doing us proud pic.twitter.com/kEoVJtsBcI
With three games left for the Villans, they have it all to do in the closing stages of the season, but they’re well-positioned to secure safety.
Performances on the same level as midweek against West Ham and Saturday against Bristol City will likely be enough should City fail to beat Manchester United or Brighton.
“West Ham was a 0-0, we didn’t create enough opportunities,” Bignot continued. “But it was a good, clean sheet performance.
“Today was a winning performance, without a shadow of a doubt.
“We need to keep putting those performances in like we’ve seen today, and the results will take care of themselves.”