Leach sparks promotion celebrations with dramatic penalty save for Vixens

(Photo: The FA)

By Luke Baker

BRISTOL City could hardly have sealed promotion to WSL 1 in more dramatic fashion, but two-goal hero Claire Emslie believes it proved they earned their place at the top table of women’s football.

In the penultimate game of the season last weekend, City knew that victory over Everton would guarantee promotion from WSL 2, ahead of the Toffees, while any other result would take the battle down to the last game today.

The Vixens were cruising at the Select Security Stadium – 3-1 ahead with five minutes remaining, thanks to Emslie’s double and Millie Farrow’s calm finish, while Claudia Walker’s penalty was all Everton had to show.

Then, Danielle Turner’s scrambled 85th-minute effort gave Everton hope, before another 96th-minute penalty looked to have broken City hearts, only for Caitlin Leach to save Walker’s effort. It preserved the 3-2 win and guaranteed an instant return to WSL 1.

And, while the sheer outpouring of emotion at the final whistle showed how much it meant to the Vixens, Emslie is adamant she always had faith in Leach.

“When they were awarded the late penalty, I did think Caitlin would save it,” insisted the 22-year-old Scottish midfielder.

“We were a bit scared, thinking promotion might not happen, but then when Caitlin saved it the feeling was unbelievable.

“The way we secured promotion made it a lot sweeter. We managed to beat one of the best teams when it came to crunch time.

“It makes it feel like you deserve it more when you’re playing at that standard. They beat us last time so we wanted revenge, and to do it at their home ground made it a bit sweeter.”

Guaranteeing themselves a top-two spot in WSL 2 means Bristol City bounce back from last year’s relegation in perfect style.

That instant return looked in jeopardy when they went through a sequence of just one win in five games in all competitions, but it was a different situation once Emslie joined the club from Florida Atlantic University in June.

“I joined halfway through the season and the only league defeat I experienced was against Everton, so my head was always pretty positive,” she explained.

“We knew getting promotion was going to be tight but we all had that belief that we were capable of doing it.

“I think WSL 1 will be a big step up. The quality is a lot higher than WSL 2 but it’s exciting and we are ready for the challenge.”

Before they head to WSL 1, the Vixens have one final bit of business to attend to – determining the destination of the title.

Heading into this afternoon’s clash with Oxford United, they are level on points with table-toppers Yeovil – who host Sheffield – but are six behind on goal difference. Unless they can produce an improbably huge win against the U’s, City will be relying on Sheffield doing them a favour.

“Our main job is just getting the three points,” said Emslie. Promotion was the number one target but winning the league would be amazing on top of that.”

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