Aston Villa Women beat Bristol City 2-0 at Ashton Gate on Sunday to secure their first win of the 2023/24 Women's Super League season, with an own goal from Megan Connolly and a strike from second-half substitute Ebony Salmon.

It was a quiet start to the game with neither side able to carve out any clear-cut chances. In the 25th minute, the hosts earned their first glaring opportunity as Rachel Furness forced a decent save from Villa goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar with a strike from range.

On 36 minutes, Carla Ward's side finally worked a clear opening. A decent move ended with Laura Blindkilde Brown getting a shot away in the box, but it was kept out by her own teammate Rachel Daly and City were able to clear.

It was goalless at the break with Villa needing a more inspired second-half performance if they were to finally secure their first points of the WSL season.

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Villa dominated the opening stages after the break as Daly twice came close to putting the visitors in front. Her second effort flashed across the face of goal but failed to hit the target.

Kenza Dali then got a shot away on the hour mark as she was picked out on the edge of the box by Blindkilde Brown. Her effort was comfortably held by City goalkeeper Olivia Clark.

Sarah Mayling also forced a decent stop from Clark with a free-kick from range. The resulting corner came to nothing.

It took until just before the 80-minute mark for Villa to find their breakthrough. Substitute Salmon got a shot away, although it took a final touch off a Bristol City shirt and formally went down as a Megan Connolly own goal.

Salmon made sure to get her goal, though, as she ran through the City defence and fired an effort into the back of the net with minutes left on the clock.

Here's the main talking points from Ashton Gate...

Kenza Dali returns

It's been a long time coming. France midfielder Dali returned to a matchday squad midweek and came on in the Conti Cup win over Sheffield United.

She returned to the starting line-up for the first time against Bristol City and it's easy to see just how integral she is to the way Villa play. She linked up well with her teammates and held onto possession well in the first half, although Ward's side were unable to string together more than a handful of decent chances.

She made way for Staniforth late on but it was overall a positive first showing from the midfielder. Her presence in the coming weeks will be huge for Villa.

First three points of the season secured

Villa needed to win on Sunday, there was no escaping that fact. That was evident in their play across the first 45 minutes, as they were eager to get forward and create chances but always looked wary of the threat posed by their opponents.

Ward's substitutes in the second half worked a treat, both Salmon and Nobbs caused plenty of problems. The win puts them above Bristol City in the table, only on goal difference.

They remain just a point behind Everton and West Ham - who they play in the next two weeks before the international break.

Patience pays off

It took until the 77th minute for Villa to find a breakthrough, but once they got themselves in front, there was a sense it would only go one way. City were resilient, compact and tough to break down and it's no surprise it took Salmon's pace against a tiring backline to make the difference.

The performance was never going to be a major factor in this game - ultimately it was the result that was of overriding importance. To top it off with a clean sheet is a huge bonus, but to grind out a result in the manner they did should give Villa significant confidence moving forward.

To finally break the 'zero points' cloud that had been looming over their heads in recent weeks is massive.

Salmon haunts former club

22-year-old Salmon was the difference maker on the day and it goes to show the importance of having such quality on the bench to turn a game on its head when it's not going as planned.

While it wasn't registered as her goal, it was her desire and drive forward that edged Villa in front in the second half. Her finish for the second was equally as brilliant and there was no taking that goal off her.

Salmon, who played for Bristol City when they were last in the WSL back in 2019, is finally off the mark for her new club and Villa boss has called for patience as the youngster continues to settle back into life in England.

"She had a bit of fire in her belly," Ward said post-match. "She's done tremendously well in training.

"I think she's just getting used to the WSL again. That's the reality. People don't realise when you come from one league to another, it's tough.

"She's done really well. She's come on and changed the game."

Fans give Villa much-needed push

The celebrations post-match felt like a huge sigh of relief from staff, players and fans. The ongoing support from those watching week in, and week out is something that hasn't gone unnoticed by the Villa boss.

The traveling fans were chanting Ward's name early in the game and a banner reading "Carla Ward's Claret and Blue Army" was displayed in the stands. Despite the difficulty in recent weeks, there is still that sense of unity which has no doubt been massive in the team's bid to turn things around.

"They've stuck with this," Ward highlighted post-match. "Which is unbelievable. It's a thank you to them because I don't know how many fan groups travel like ours do.

"They back the players, they back myself. They're sensational. They sent a video over actually of all the supporter's messages and the group watched it this morning."