If Bristol City manage to beat Chelsea in the Continental Cup final, it will go down as one of the greatest upsets ever seen. However, as Jessy Parker Humphreys explores, you can never write off Bristol City.
Bristol City have the chance to put their relegation fears to one side on Sunday, as they face Chelsea in the Continental Cup final.
Bristol City have a habit of making the unexpected happen.
Last season they surprised many when they managed to maintain their Women’s Super League status on a Points Per Game basis after the season was curtailed as a result of COVID-19, leaving Liverpool to be relegated.
Even this season, despite having looked nailed on to go down, their Monday night win against Reading saw them move off the bottom of the table. Bristol City are not a side to write off early.
It is the first time Bristol City have reached a domestic cup final since 2013.
“We go into the game as the underdog,” said manager Matt Beard ahead of the match.
Underdog might be understating it. In Chelsea, Bristol City will be facing the holders and last season’s WSL champions, as well as a side who has already beaten them twice in the league this season with an aggregate score of 14-0.
Beard is nonplussed about the previous results though.
“I’ve said to the girls it’s not about our physical or technical ability. It’s about how we mentally deal with certain situations.”
Beard has certainly seemed to bring an extra mental fortitude to this Bristol City side. Since his appointment as maternity cover for Tanya Oxtoby, Bristol have picked up seven of their total nine points this season.
Beard’s immense experience in the women’s game has clearly enabled him to hit the ground running at the club, after he left West Ham earlier in the season.
Oxtoby will be at the Continental Cup final, although not in the dugout. It is an experience Emma Hayes is familiar with, having led her Chelsea side out at the 2017/18 FA Cup final just eight days before she gave birth.
“I think you have to really appreciate how tough this might be for her,” said Hayes about Oxtoby’s experience.
“This team is in this position because of the foundation she laid. She deserves to be there, and take pride in what she’s done, and the incredible amount of work to get the team into that position, along with Matt.”
Key to getting Bristol City into this position is Ebony Salmon.
The 20-year-old’s goals have been directly responsible for seven of Bristol City’s nine points this season. It was a similar story last year too – she was responsible for eight of their nine points, including the crucial winner at Birmingham which kept them in the division.
Salmon is a luxury that most teams towards the bottom of the WSL do not have; a striker who can be relied on to score goals. Tanya Oxtoby has been careful over the past seasons to not put too much pressure on her. Salmon has already played three more 90s than she did in 2019/20. But there are few players who you would feel as confident about scoring when she is set free against a high line.
“She’s very confident at the moment,” remarked Magda Eriksson when asked about Salmon ahead of the match. “That’s always a test in itself playing against the confidence striker.”
“She’s rapid, she’s a very good counter-attacking player, and she’s always ready for the ball to be played in behind.”
“As a team, we just have to be on our toes, the entire game.”
If Bristol City manage to beat Chelsea in the Continental Cup final, it will go down as one of the greatest upsets ever seen. Regardless, the match up demonstrates the value in a competition which is often maligned. The geographical group stages saw Arsenal and Manchester United eliminated early which opened up the competition to allow a smaller side reach the final.
Beard summed it up in his pre-match comments. “In your career, you don’t get to play many cup Finals. From my experience, I’ll embrace it and not be overawed by the occasion.”
Beard will hope his Bristol City side can do the same. Whatever happens against Chelsea, it will be an exciting moment for a club which has not had a huge amount to smile about over the past couple of years. And when it comes to Bristol City, you can never just write them off.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph