Shelley Kerr was delighted to secure Arsenal’s first victory of the season in the FA Women’s Super League after they beat Bristol Academy for the third time in 12 days.
The Gunners had already seen off the Vixens in the Continental Cup and last Sunday’s FA Women’s Cup final at Doncaster.
And they completed a quick-fire hat-trick as goals from Steph Houghton, Kim Little and Gilly Flaherty proved decisive in an eventful clash at the Stoke Gifford Stadium.
Little also saw a penalty saved while Bristol scored through Natalia Sanchon and a Corinne Yorston spot kick and had Grace McCatty sent off after the break.
“I thought we were so far ahead in the first half and played exceptionally well,” said Kerr. “But credit to Bristol because they came back at us and they have a lot of spirit and character. They will cause teams problems.
“Everyone had been writing us off after the Lincoln and Liverpool games and the club had attracted a lot of criticism.
“But we have been brilliant in the last four or five matches and we knew our first win in the WSL was going to come because we have an exceptional group of players.
“The scoreline probably makes the game look closer than it actually was, but we are delighted with the three points.”
The most controversial moment of the game surrounded Bristol’s second-half penalty, which came when Alex Scott was ruled to have handled.
She took the ball out of keeper Emma Byrne’s hands thinking play had been halted because of an injury to Bristol player Natasha Harding.
Referee Robin Cox consulted with an assistant before making the decision, which came at least a minute after the original incident.
Kerr added: “There were some strange decisions in the second half to say the least, but I don’t want to comment further. The referee has a job to do, but I don’t know what he saw.”
Siobhan Chamberlain, who had made a number of fine saves for Bristol in the FA Cup final, was twice called on in the opening stages to prevent the Gunners taking the lead.
First she sprang to her right to fingertip away a shot from Ellen White which looked to be heading for the top corner in the fourth minute.
Six minutes later, Gemma Davison got to the bye-line and pulled the ball back across the face of goal - and Chamberlain made a superb reaction block to somehow keep out Jordan Nobbs’ effort from point-blank range.
But Arsenal skipper Houghton finally put her side into the lead on the half-hour mark .
Little was the provider with a through ball and Houghton promptly drilled home a fierce low shot into the far corner.
Ten minutes later, Little added the second as she latched on to a through ball from Davison and broke clear before planting a neat finish past the advancing Chamberlain.
Bristol struck back two minutes after the interval, although the goal owed a lot to an uncharacteristic error by Byrne.
Ann-Marie Heatherson, who had come off the bench for the second half, made a powerful run into Arsenal’s box and pulled the ball back for Sanchon, whose shot went through the keepers hands and legs before ending up in the back of the net.
But Arsenal needed only four minutes to restore their two-goal cushion, adding a third goal when Flaherty headed home from Rachel Yankey’s corner kick.
Chamberlain made another fine save on 71 minutes when she dived to her left to prevent White steering home a fourth goal from Yankey’s cross.
Five minutes later, McCatty received a straight red for bringing down White, but Chamberlain performed more heroics by diving to her left to save Little’s spot kick.
Within moments, Angharad James almost pulled another goal back for Bristol – but her chip struck the bar and Harding was injured as she tried to force home the rebound.
Thinking play had stopped, Arsenal defender Scott took the ball off Byrne and threw it out of play - but after Harding had received treatment, referee Cox awarded the controversial penalty, which was duly converted by Yorston.
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