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Vixens Set Up Barcelona Tie

Bristol Academy booked their place in the last 16 of the Women’s Champions League after a hard-fought victory over Raheny United at Ashton Gate.

Raheny came to Ashton Gate with a mountain to climb following their 4-0 first-leg home defeat, but the final aggregate scoreline of 6-1 – thanks to goals from Natalia and Angharad James – doesn’t paint a full story of how hard they were made to work in BS3.

The Irish club’s late headed effort from Pearl Slattery was nothing more than a consolation for the sizeable numbers who had travelled from Ireland to watch the game.

But for Academy – the last remaining English club in the competition – their attentions can now switch to a glamour two-legged tie next month against Barcelona.

The Irish team rolled the dice in an effort to overturn the deficit as manager Casey McQuillan made three changes to their starting line-up from last week, while Academy’s XI remained unchanged.

The opening ten minutes provided little of note as Raheny set up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with damage limitation in mind. The first real show of intent reflected the character of the first-half, as James picked out Natasha Harding on the right who fizzed the ball across goal, but no one could get on the end of it.

Noelle Murray offered the only threat for Raheny and she was brought down on the edge of the area after knocking the ball past Jasmine Matthews, only for the resulting free kick to bobble out and back into the possession of Academy.

The best chance of the half fell to Nikki Watts, who claimed the player of the match award, after Sophie Ingle’s bursting run into the box. Ingle showed composure to look up and pick out Watts, but her first time shot curled into Niamh Burke’s hands.

The second half started with a little more intent from both sides but mirroring the first half in that Academy created the majority of chances and kept possession well throughout.

However, the first notable chance fell to Raheny’s Katie McCabe as the ball came to her on the edge of the box following a corner. Her left-footed swipe troubled Mary Earps as she saw the ball curl narrowly wide of the far post.

Academy finally put the tie to bed when Harding found Watts in the box following a great ball from Grace McCatty at right-back. Her neat control and turn allowed room to Natalia, who curled the ball coolly into the far corner.

Ten minutes later Academy went 2-0 up after some good build-up play before Natalia picked the ball up 25 yards from goal and tried to find an opening to score. She opted to feed Harding down the right and her pass found James bursting into the area and her finish proved too hot to handle for Burke at the near post.

Academy continued to dominate possession and openings but it was Raheny who scored from a long, floated free kick against the run of play that was met by Pearl Slattery’s head at the back post for a simple goal.

Chances continued to fall for Academy and most notably Watts and Natalia both ended up being denied by Burke, and then a goal-line clearance.

This emphatic victory sets up an exciting tie in the next round with Barcelona. fixtures are due to be played on the weekend of November 8th/9th (away) and midweek November 12th/13th (Ashton Gate).