By Chris Harris
Arsenal Ladies booked their place in the Uefa Women's Cup Quarter-Finals after dismantling Neulengbach at Clarence Park on Saturday.
The Austrian champions threatened to stretch the holders after a strong start to the game but a thunderous ninth-minute strike from Jayne Ludlow knocked the wind out of their sails before a flurry of four goals in eight first-half minutes ended the game as a contest.
Julie Fleeting doubled Arsenal's lead with a firm header, Ludlow added her second from close range and Karen Carney's delightful touch made it four. Fleeting's first-time finish gave the Ladies more than enough breathing space before the break. Arsenal eased off in the second half but Katie Chapman and Ciara Grant got on the scoresheet before the final whistle brought another one-sided game to a conclusion.
Bardolina joined the holders in the last eight of the competition after beating Alma 5-1 in Saturday's second group game. Arsenal need just a point against the Italian champions on Tuesday night to secure top spot and, in theory at least, a less dangerous Quarter-Final opponent.
Vic Akers made one change from the side which beat Alma 4-0 in Thursday night's opening group game. Kelly Smith was deemed fit enough after a minor groin injury to take her place in the starting line-up. Lianne Sanderson dropped to the bench alongside club captain Faye White, still slightly troubled by a knee problem.
The opening exchanges gave little hint of what was to follow. Emma Byrne, pretty much redundant against Alma, was called into action as early as the first minute when she made a comfortable save from Birgit Gumpenberger. Neulengbach looked quicker, stronger and more dangerous than Alma, but their early ascendancy was short-lived.
That was largely thanks to Ludlow. Arsenal's stand-in captain has a happy knack of scoring spectacular goals and she added to her portfolio with a bolt from the blue from fully 30 yards. Bianca Reischer got a hand to it but could only help the ball into the net. It was Arsenal's first shot of note and, confidence suitably boosted, they soon turned the screw.
Fleeting headed over from Carney's cross and then sliced wide after Smith's perfect pass. Rachel Yankey's instant control allowed her to pick out Fleeting inside the box but the Scotland striker miskicked and Carney, following up, did likewise. If that was slightly wasteful, Arsenal were soon at their clinical best.
When the 28th minute began the score was 1-0. By the time the 36th minute had elapsed it was 5-0. A slick move involving Mary Phillip, Smith and Yankey ended with a cross and a firm header from Fleeting. Then Ludlow met Fleeting's cross and, falling to the ground under a challenge, responded quickly to find the bottom corner. Alex Scott's floated diagonal pass was lifted over Reischer by Carney's delicate touch and Fleeting provided a fine first-time finish from another precise Scott cross.
For the second successive group game Arsenal had the job done and dusted by half time and, understandably, took their foot off the gas after the interval. Grant went close to a fifth goal seven minutes into the second half. The centre back advanced from deep and lashed a 30-yard shot towards the top corner. Reischer was at full stretch to tip the ball over the bar and, not long afterwards, got everything behind Yankey's long-range effort.
With the slope now in their favour and the lion's share of possession, another Arsenal goal seemed inevitable and it duly arrived with 19 minutes left. Chapman, seconds after lashing a volley just wide, netted from close range after Yankey's deflected shot left Reischer stranded.
Ludlow almost completed her hat-trick in the 78th minute with a looping header from Yankey's cross but Reischer backpedalled to tip over. Seconds later the Neulengbach keeper was picking the ball out of the net again, this time after Grant met Sanderson's corner with a thumping header.
The final whistle must have been music to the Austrians' ears. On this evidence, the European champions will take some stopping.
There is FREE entry to Tuesday's Uefa Women's Cup game at Boreham Wood FC.
Jayne Ludlow scores the opener
The team rush to congratulate her
Julie Fleeting makes it 2-0
Ludlow nets her second and our third
Karen Carney fires in the fourth
Fleeting makes it 5-0
Katie Chapman nets the sixth
Ciara Grant scores the seventh
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