By Joe Brewin at Meadow Park
Arsenal Ladies kept their unbeaten record intact with a hard-fought draw against Bristol Academy on Thursday night.
Despite dominating the majority of the match, Laura Harvey’s side were forced to settle for a point after a resilient defensive display from the visitors.
Natasha Harding shocked the Gunners with a venomous opener midway through the first half, but England international Kelly Smith hit back with a delightful strike of her own from distance after half time.
Harvey made two changes from the side that brushed aside Doncaster at the weekend, handing Jayne Ludlow her first start in midfield since April. Ellen White replaced Rachel Yankey, while Katie Chapman dropped to the bench.
The hosts headed into the game looking to sustain their 100 per cent home record and could have taken the lead inside four minutes. Steph Houghton’s sublime ball was chested into the path of White by Smith, only for defender Alex Windell to save the day with a fine sliding challenge.
Arsenal and Jordan Nobbs in particular were sharp in the opening exchanges but Bristol, third in the table, had no shortage of threat themselves.
Spain international Laura del Rio was a menace along the forward line, but it was Harding who broke the deadlock on 20 minutes. Out of the blue, the midfielder fired home a wonderful effort from a tight angle over Emma Byrne.
The goal knocked Harvey’s side out of their stride. Although they remained the better side, visiting goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain was rarely tested for the rest of the half.
Kim Little was predictably lively going forward but even she struggled to pierce Bristol’s sturdy rearguard.
Still, the Gunners had their opportunities before the break. Gemma Davison was denied on the line by some superb defending from captain Corinne Yorstone, before Smith’s dangerous cross on the stroke of half time narrowly evaded the far post.
A quiet second half should have been ignited 10 minutes after the interval when Smith somehow diverted a pinpoint Davison cross over the bar from close range.
Just moments later it was Little who almost converted, driving a low effort narrowly wide of the far post.
Arsenal were turning the screw and deservedly drew level on the hour mark. Smith made amends for her earlier miss with a lethal strike from range which evaded the clutches of Chamberlain - her third goal in four matches since returning to the Club in March.
Bristol would not give up and got their reward for a gritty display. Harvey introduced Rachel Yankey, Chapman and Jennifer Beattie in a bid to extend their lead at the top of the table but in the end the spoils were shared.
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