Report: Blues Women 1 Aston Villa 1
Veatriki Sarri ripped away the derby bragging rights in the sixth minute of added time as Blues Women pegged back Aston Villa.
Substitute Sarri swirled in a free-kick through a packed penalty box, making the net bulge to ensure Blues took a crucial point in the battle for Barclays FA Women’s Super League safety.
It had been a tense affair of few chances throughout, particularly in the second-half, with Freya Gregory’s finish at the second attempt dividing the teams until the dying embers.
Buoyed by Sunday’s gutsy performance in a 1-1 draw with Reading, head coach Carla Ward named an unchanged starting XI for the second city derby.
The only addition to the bench was the inclusion of Sarri.
The visitors came out of the traps quickly with midfielder Chloe Arthur nodding narrowly wide from a deep ball into the box and then miscuing a header from close range inside the opening eight minutes.
Blues threatened from an early corner but Christie Murray’s hook towards goal was headed clear by Anita Asante and within seconds, the away side had counter-attacked with Mana Iwabuchi shooting on the turn and narrowly wide via a deflection.
The brisk early tempo steadied but Blues suffered a blow when Ruesha Littlejohn was forced off through injury.
It was another break from a corner that gave the visitors the lead three minutes after that change, Iwabuchi releasing Shania Hayles to spread to Gregory who rattled the underside of the bar with her first effort before tucking in the rebound.
Blues enjoyed more territory as the half went on, the best opening falling to Jamie-Lee Napier whose shot on the run was blocked on the edge of the box following Claudia Walker’s flick-on.
Half-time: Blues Women 0 Aston Villa 1
Ward shuffled her pack at half-time, bringing on Emily Murphy with Emma Kelly pushed forward down the other flank and Ruby Mace dropping into the heart of defence with Harriet Scott moving out to full-back.
The changes made a noticeable difference. Scott threw herself at Rebecca Holloway’s inswinging corner but could not convert, while the lively Murphy frequently hassled opponents, picking up the ball and riding a challenge before lofting over from 20 yards.
Blues kept probing but found clear openings hard to come by and while the visitors got up the pitch more as the game went on, they were content to break up play and seek to draw fouls rather than go for the throat.
That tactic was punished deep into added time when substitute Sarri was picked to take a free-kick from the right and swirled it inside the far post to spark jubilant scenes among the girls in royal blue and move Blues closer to safety.
Blues: Hannah Hampton, Emma Kelly (Veatriki Sarri 58), Georgia Brougham, Harriet Scott, Rebecca Holloway, Christie Murray, Ruby Mace, Ruesha Littlejohn (Lucy Whipp 25), Sarah Mayling, Claudia Walker, Jamie-Lee Napier (Emily Murphy 46).
Unused substitutes: Mollie Green, Sophie Whitehouse.
Bookings: Emma Kelly 33, Sarah Mayling 40.
Aston Villa: Lisa Weiss, Asmita Ale, Anita Asante, Natalie Haigh, Jodie Hutton, Freya Gregory (Marisa Ewers 64), Chloe Arthur, Olivia McLoughlin, Mana Iwabuchi (Amy West 86), Stine Larsen, Shania Hayles (Diana Silva 72).
Unused subs: Emma Follis, Ramona Petzelberger, Caroline Siems, Emily Syme, Nadine Hanssen, Sian Rogers.
Bookings: Jodie Hutton 42, Diana Silva 90+3.
Referee: Jane Simms.