Manchester United have won the battle of the two promoted sides at The Hive, beating Tottenham Hotspur 3-0.
Tottenham Hotspur bosses Juan Carlos Amoros and Karen Hills went into the match fresh off the back of their FA Women’s Super League Manager of the Month award were looking to get one over on their former FA Women’s Championship nemesis Manchester United after Stoney’s side completed the double against them last season. It was not to be the case as the North West side ran away 3-0 victors following a workmanlike that was marred only by the late sending off of teenage starlet Lauren James.
The Red Devils made their intentions clear from the very start as they broke into the box in the opening minute. Teenager James cut into area onto her right and pulled a smart save from Becky Spencer from a narrow angle. The ball then fell to James once again who drilled a shot towards the top corner, this time with her left, but again Spencer was equal to it and parried onto the post. The danger wasn’t over and Kirsty Hanson rocketed a left-footed effort on target but once again the home keeper had got back in position and was somehow able to stop what looked like a certain goal.
Although it looked like United were going to run away with the game early on, it actually began as a very open game with both sides finding space in the opposition area but it was the away side who drew first blood.
After some good work down the left, the ball arrived at the feet of FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 finalist Jackie Groenen whose shot was blocked but winger Hanson latched on to the loose ball. Cutting in on her stronger left foot, her low effort was guided past Spencer into the bottom corner. It was announced before the game that Scottish winger Lizzie Arnot had sustained an injury which kept her out and this gave Hanson the opportunity to showcase what she offers the side in starting XI and she certainly took her chance.
From then on Spurs seemed to sacrifice some of their attacking impetus that looked likely to open the United backline in favour of defensive security. This meant that although the away side had plenty of possession in the attacking third they struggled to break the hosts down.
The home side were very nearly their own worst enemies when a risky pass across their own box was pounced upon by Leah Galton. Unable to direct her effort goalwards, she blazed her right-footed shot over and let the home side off the hook.
After coming out for the second half, James looked like a woman possessed, determined to bag herself a goal but she drove her two early efforts over. Her close control frustrated the swarm of players around her and the prodigious forward found herself in excellent positions and on another day, would’ve added to the goal she already got against Liverpool in her last game.
United did eventually have their second when after a quick break away, the ball came to Galton on the left of the area. She whipped the ball across the six-yard box for Hanson on the opposite wing but Tottenham Hotspur full-back Ashleigh Neville met the ball first and turned it into her own goal. This is Neville’s second own goal already this season having racked another one up against Reading in the FA Women’s Continental League Cup, a record she will not want to be reminded of.
Tottenham Hotspur remained limited to half chances and tame efforts from Rianna Dean and Rachel Furness did little to trouble Mary Earps in the away goal. One of the home side’s few decent chances of the half came when Kit Graham drove at right-back Martha Harris. Twisting the former Liverpool defender inside and out allowed Graham to open some space up for herself but got underneath the ball and fired over.
This was soon followed by an ambitious long distance effort from Furness which nearly caught Earps out but the England keeper was able to stretch out her left hand and tip it on to the crossbar and out for a corner.
As Tottenham Hotspur continued to search for a way back into the game, gaps began to open up for them at the back. A quick and incisive counter charge lead by James found United in a great position. With players committed forward, James distributed the ball out wide to substitute Jess Sigsworth in space and with the last two defenders drawn to the ball United’s number nine slotted it to Groenen. With just the goalie to beat the Dutch international looked certain to make it three, however, Spencer was able to get a touch to the ball which took the sting off the shot and the defence were able to get back and clear the danger off the line. The very vocal travelling support delighted to see Groenen fit after she missed international duty through injury, were desperately willing the ball over the line but sadly it was not to be.
Spurs looked like they might have been in with a slight chance of getting back into the game when James was sent off for a second bookable offence on 89 minutes. The first booking just 10 minutes earlier may have been harsh but she could have little complaints with the second as she missed the ball and followed through on Lucy Quinn’s ankle.
If the Lilywhites were to mount a comeback they would have needed to score from the subsequent free-kick. Unfortunately for them, the effort from Furness had plenty of power but not the direction to beat Earps who gathered comfortably.
Then any hope Spurs had of getting something out of the game quickly diminished deep into stoppage time. With the ball just inside the Tottenham Hotspur half, the attack looked harmless enough until Galton’s superb first touch left her defender for dead. She was then able to pick out substitute Jane Ross who poked the ball past the on-rushing Spencer to register her first goal for her new club since her summer move from West Ham United.
Tottenham Hotspur hit the woodwork late on the game but the scoreline ended 3-0 to the travelling Reds. Casey Stoney’s team picked up their first points on the road this season and barring the James sending off it was a very composed and measured display.
The home side struggled to match United’s retention of the ball by the midfield three of Ladd, Zelem, and Groenen plus with James’ neat footwork to draw players in and weave her way out of tight areas this allowed plenty of room for the likes of Galton to get balls into the box. The result now puts Manchester United level on points with Tottenham Hotspur on six as they continue to climb the table following their opening two defeats to Manchester City and Arsenal.
Spurs on the other hand will have been using this game as a litmus test for how far they’ve progressed since last season and although it is clear to see they have improved significantly on the team that conceded nine goals to United last season, there is still plenty of work to do if they are to bridge that gap.
By Ryan Lee Gregory (@ryanleegregory)