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Keira Walsh’s first goal for the club – a long-range second half stunner – earned a vital victory in the Champions League last 16 first leg tie, handing the Blues a precious lead to take to Denmark next week.
In a game of few clear-cut chances, the hosts’ persistence paid off with a piece of individual brilliance and a solid performance by goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, which prevented an away goal.
Nick Cushing declared in his pre-match press conference he felt the Danish outfit would provide one of his side’s toughest tests. The Blues boss made just one change to the side that completed the league season as Invincibles with a 1-1 draw with Birmingham, as Izzy Christiansen replaced Tessel Middag.
The opening quarter of an hour proved a nervy affair, with both sides tentative in possession. Two fine interceptions from skipper Steph Houghton thwarted dangerous attacks from the visitors, while City’s first attempt arrived courtesy of Toni Duggan who drilled wide.
Lucy Bronze then forced Katrina Louise Abel into a low stop, having been played through by Kosovare Asllani before Houghton almost hooked the resulting corner over the Brondby ‘keeper.
At the other end, Bardsley also did well to deny Nanna Christiansen, pushing her driven attempt away from the bottom corner.
The Blues were more dominant after the break, and should have opened the scoring on 55 minutes. England’s top scorer in all competitions Jane Ross was played through beautifully by Walsh. The striker beat the ‘keeper to the ball, clipping it away from her but hesitated in pulling the trigger and saw her effort cleared off the line by Simone Boye Sorensen.
The Scotland international was presented with another opportunity just after the hour mark but could not find the ideal connection to convert.
The deadlock was broken with a moment of magic – a piece of history. When Walsh collected the ball 35 yards out, there looked to be little danger, but the youngster – Player of the Match in the last round against Zvezda at home – unleashed a wonderful strike into the far corner, sparking jubilant scenes.
Substitute Nikita Parris could have doubled the lead but lost her balance to fire over, whilst Brondby – seeking a potentially crucial away goal – were frustrated once more by Bardsley, who raced out to block Simone Sorensen’s chance.
There were further chances at either end as Parris fired into Abel’s arms and Bardsley stretched to produce a match-winning save, tipping Katrine Veje’s lob onto the bar.
That proved to be the closest Brondby would come to a leveller and City will travel to Denmark for the reverse leg next Wednesday with an advantage and riding the momentum they have built up over a tremendous double-winning campaign.
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