International players hold the key to Bristol's FA Cup fortunes
MARK Sampson is hoping Bristol Academy's international brigade will return unscathed for their opening game of the season this weekend.
The Vixens travel to Doncaster Rovers Belles for Sunday's FA Women's Cup fifth-round clash.
And head coach Sampson has his fingers crossed that several key members of the squad will be available for the curtain-raiser at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Keeper Siobhan Chamberlain was between the posts for England as they booked their place in the final of the Cyprus Cup with a 3-1 win over New Zealand on Monday.
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And Natasha Harding, Angharad James and Loren Dykes have all been on duty for Wales in the same competition.
"They are all due back on Thursday and hopefully will return fit, fresh and without any injuries – Sunday's game is going to be a tough one for us," said Sampson.
Bristol will be without new signing Natalia Pablos Sanchon as the former Spanish international striker will not arrive in the country until next week, although she is expected to be available for their first home game – the Continental Cup opener against Lincoln on March 23.
But Sampson has been delighted with the way pre-season training has gone so far and with the attitude and application of the squad.
"We have been working hard on adapting certain elements of our style of play. We were a bit too open when we lost the ball last season so have been concentrating on how to get back in position and how to win the ball back so we don't get hurt on the counter-attack," he said.
"We also need to be a bit quicker in our build-up play going forward, and hopefully these are things that will pay off in the season ahead."
The race for the SW Women's League title looks like going all the way to the wire after last week's clash between title contenders Bristol Ladies Union and Larkhall Athletic was postponed.
Downend Flyers picked up a point against Cheltenham Town after Nicola Glanville netted in a 1-1 draw, while Stoke Lane Athletic also shared the honours in a goalless stalemate at Bridgwater.
St Nicholas maintained their pursuit of Eastern Division One leaders Swindon Supermarine – and narrowed their goals difference – after a 10-1 romp against Cirencester Town.
Becky Rexworthy scored four, there were doubles from Amy Jefferies and Jade Gamlin, with Abi Winnett and Melanie McIlwraith also on target.
Oldland Abbotonians moved into a comfortable mid-table slot after Jess Cole and Louise Walter netted in their 2-1 win over Nailsea United.
Bitton closed the gap on Gloucestershire County Women's League Division One leaders AEK Boco to two points after a 3-1 win over their title rivals – and they have three games in hand.
Helen Wood opened the scoring for Bitton direct from a corner before Leanne Burge equalised for Boco. Wood put Bitton back in front and Jess Morgan settled things late on.
Bitton now turn their attentions to this weekend's GFA Cup semi-final against Downend, while St Nicholas host Bristol Academy Under-18s in the other tie.
Longwell Green remain top of Division Two after Sarah Price, Amy Nicholson and Kirsty Mitchell secured a 3-0 win over Cirencester.
Brislington took over top spot in Division One of the Somerset County Women's League after their 13-1 demolition of previous leaders Victoria Sports.
Goals came from Emily Plummer (6), Leigha Milkins (3), Abbie Southway (2), Sophie Whelan and Molly Moore