"Anything can happen": Bristol's Laura Rafferty talks WSL relegation battle

Laura Rafferty

With just two games left of the 2020/21 season, the fight for survival at the bottom of the Women’s Super League is almost too close to call.

Four clubs are locked in a relegation dog fight as they vie for their place in England’s top flight next campaign. No team will want to go down and it’s still very much all to play for.

At the foot of the table, Bristol City are arguably favourites to be relegated, especially given their hefty goal difference of minus 51. However, the Vixens have shown that they are not willing to go down without a fight. In a gritty performance last time out, City clawed back a point against Aston Villa – who are also fighting for survival – after going 2-0 down in the first half. 

A stunning equaliser from Ella Mastrantonio came in the fifth minute of stoppage time to keep Bristol in the fight.

Robins defender Laura Rafferty spoke with GiveMeSport Women after Northern Ireland’s European qualification about Bristol City’s incredible fighting spirit and the thrilling four-way battle to avoid this season’s drop.

“Because there’s so much competition at the bottom of the table, I think it’s just as exciting for viewers to see, as well as the top half of the table,” she said. 

Interim manager Matt Beard helped guide Bristol to the Continental Cup final this term and has secured shock league results, including a 3-2 win over Reading and 1-1 draw against Spurs. Players like Ebony Salmon and Charlie Wellings have been crucial in attack, as well as Sophie Baggaley in between the sticks.

Ebony Salmon and Matt Beard

“Matt’s obviously very well-known in the women’s game and he’s made a massive impact both individually and collectively on the team,” Rafferty said. “He’s put us in a fighting race with four of us teams that are battling it out in the bottom half of the table.

“But it gives you that mindset that everything is a competition. You have to have that winning mentality.”

Indeed, whilst Bristol City may have endured a struggle this season, they have shown real grit and determination to give this last push their ultimate. The Vixens will face Manchester United at Twerton Park on Sunday, followed by their closing match against Brighton & Hove Albion on the road, a meeting they dominated 3-0 earlier in the season.

“Everyone’s fighting for something,” the centre-back said on the challenge ahead against United. “They need to win for their contentions in the Champions League. We know it’s a tough game, they have a great squad of players but it’s about going out and performing for ourselves instead of thinking about them so much.

“We’re used to being the underdogs. It’s something that we’ve embraced and we’re just looking forward to hopefully going and picking up those important points now.”

Bristol sit bottom of the WSL table on 12 points, just one behind Aston Villa. West Ham are one spot ahead on 14 points, with Birmingham City in ninth place on 15. With such tight margins, there’s everything to play for as we head into the final two games of the season. One minor slip up from any team could be detrimental to their survival chances.

“We’re at the bottom of the pile right now but it’s so close that anything can happen,” Rafferty said.

Bristol City will kick off against Man United on May 2nd at 2pm as both sides prepare to put in serious leg work for their respective tussles. 

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