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A Jennifer Beattie header and a Steph Houghton free-kick separated the sides at the Academy Stadium to extend the Blues’ lead at the top of the Super League to 13 points – if only until the afternoon.
Nick Cushing’s side have just three games remaining – one away and two at home – in their bid to secure a first league crown, and they were thoroughly deserving of their triumph against the Royals.
The table toppers perhaps should have made the result more comfortable, creating chance after chance – but ultimately, the three points were all that mattered.
After a two-week break without a game, Cushing’s side were fresh and raring to go, and the Blues boss made two changes from the side that defeated Doncaster 4-0 last time out, as Jill Scott and Daphne Corboz came in for Tessel Middag and Georgia Stanway.
As has become the norm this season, the Blues started brightly with a flurry of chances in the first 15 minutes.
Jane Ross went close within a minute, firing just over, before Corboz’s effort suffered the same fate.
Izzy Christiansen then diverted a cross just the wrong side of the post, whilst Ross struck the crossbar and then headed wide from Lucy Bronze’s delivery.
Beattie then did the same with another fine Bronze cross and Toni Duggan went close with a long-range effort, which bounced wide.
Despite their dominance, City’s final ball was too often found lacking and the opening 45 ended in stalemate.
The hosts almost opened the scoring just after the break as Scott’s header led to a goalmouth scramble and Mary Earps did well to palm the ball to safety.
The deadlock was finally broken three minutes after the restart, as Beattie netted her third City goal.
The Scot rose to meet Duggan’s free-kick, heading into the bottom corner.
It really was no less than City deserved.
The Blues went in search of a second to give themselves a more comfortable advantage. Scott went close twice, drilling just over and forcing Earps into a save with a header.
Houghton then curled into the ‘keeper’s arms, and substitute Nikita Parris headed into the side-netting before blazing over.
The result was finally put beyond doubt with three minutes of normal time remaining, as Ross was fouled on the edge of the area and City were awarded a free-kick.
Set-piece specialist Houghton stepped up to take it, firing into the bottom corner to secure a huge win for City.
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