Villa Ladies report: Impressive draw at Watford Ladies
Beth Merrick's fabulous long-range free-kick earned a deserved draw for Villa Ladies, who showed enough endeavour to take all three.
Villa came out all guns blazing after the interval and perhaps deserved more for the level of effort shown.
Nevertheless, it was an important point for Ron Mellor's side - and their first in the Women's Super League following Wednesday's defeat to Doncaster Belles.
There were four changes made to the starting XI from their first outing, as Elisha N'Dow, Abbeyleigh Stringer, Olivia Fergusson and Sarah Mayling made way for Katy Moran, Carly Davies, Alicia Robertson and Merrick.
And it was the latter who stunned the 136-strong crowd at Berkhamstead FC with a well-struck equaliser.
There weren't many who would have expected Merrick to score directly from the set-piece, such was the distance between her and the net.
But the midfielder did just that as her 30-yard curving strike evaded the pack inside the box and nestled into the back of the net to Watford 'keeper Shayla Burgess' left.
Delighted disbelief followed as Villa stepped up their efforts following a quieter first half.
Watford had taken the lead shortly after the half-hour mark through Jo Wilson, a blow for Villa who were beginning to ask questions of the hosts' defence.
Cally Rowell's corner was swiped at in the box by Wilson as she made just enough contact with a volley to hit the target.
Maddy Cusack was positioned on the goalline but unfortunately for Villa she was unable to stop the ball from rippling the net as it bobbled on the pitch.
The home side had created more going forward and captain Sarah Wiltshire was looking dangerous as she carved out attacks from midfield.
Defender Jade Richards dealt well with an early right-sided run from the Welsh international, while Kate Natkiel almost found her team-mate with a low ball in from the right which managed to evade everyone in the box.
Goalkeeper Caitlin Leach also reacted well as Natkiel bore down on goal, shielding the loose ball and scooping it to safety in the area.
Sherry McCue dragged a long-range shot well wide as Villa's efforts in the final third were lacking in sharpness - something which they certainly improved on after the interval.
An ambitious Moran header from distance just swept over the crossbar, while Lauren Walker tested Burgess with a low drive as Villa upped the tempo.
Erin Vaughan and Mayling entered the fray in place of Cusack and goalscorer Merrick as the visitors gained a tremendous boost from the equaliser and looked determined to show what they could do.
Star-of-the-match Robinson was always threatening and kept Burgess busy as her tricky strike forced the 'keeper into a diving save with 20 minutes left.
And an agonising miss by Chloe Jones was the peak of Villa's attacking efforts as the midfielder guided a Walker cross just over the bar.
With 10 minutes to go, Fergusson replaced Davies and was soon joining in the pressure on Burgess as Villa battled valiantly up front.
Watford were restricted to a few half-chances by substitute Josie Green and leader Wiltshire, who came close late on but her quick-fire shot was placed wide.
That would have been a cruel blow for Villa to concede, as their hard-working and creative display produced plenty of positives to build on ahead of next week's clash with Sunderland Ladies at Coles Lane.
Villa Ladies: Leach, Cusack (Vaughan, 58), Walker, McCue, Petrovic (c), Richards, Merric (Mayling, 68), Moran, Davies (Fergusson, 79), Jones, Robinson. Subs not used: N'Dow, Courtney.
Watford Ladies: Burgess, Mays (Gunn, 79), Butterwick, Hector, Wiltshire (c), Horwood, Wilson (Mosengo, 75), Natkiel, Wynne (Green, 66), Rowell, Beckett. Subs not used: Davey, Heaslip.
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