Manchester United have continued their impressive home form with a 2-0 victory over Reading at the Leigh Sports Village this afternoon.
Fresh off the back of their monumental win over their city rivals Manchester City in the FA Women’s Continental Cup last Sunday, Manchester United faced Reading for the first time in the league at the Leigh Sports Village.
The two sides faced each other twice last season in each of the domestic cup competitions and it was The Royals who emerged victorious on both occasions.
Both teams came into the encounter off the back of three consecutive wins, the latest victory for Reading including a scare against FA Women’s Championship side Lewes at The Madejski Stadium in the FA Women’s Continental League Cup.
It was Manchester United who left with all three points after yet another display which showcased their repaid growth into one of the FA Women’s Super League’s elite clubs.
There was one change for The Red Devils as Lauren James returned from suspension to replace one of last week’s goalscorers, Jess Sigsworth. As for Reading, they saw the return of goalkeeper Grace Moloney and midfielder Jade Moore to the starting XI.
The Republic of Ireland international keeper wouldn’t have expected to be called into action so early into her return but United very nearly broke the deadlock in the opening three minutes when a through ball found Lauren James in behind. She played it square to Leah Galton but the in-form winger fired a shot from a narrow angle straight at the grateful Moloney.
The first half was a very scrappy affair with neither team truly finding their rhythm as play was broken
up on several occasions due to players from both sides requiring treatment. The most serious of
these came after a clash of heads which left Norway international Lisa-Marie Utland with blood
streaming from her face. There was lengthy stoppage in play as the Reading forward went down
with a suspected broken nose but thankfully she was eventually able to carry on. However, that wasn’t before an extended period off the pitch whilst she received treatment and United looked to make the extra player count.
United did take full advantage. A first time left footed cross from Galton caused serious problems for centre-back Sophie Howard who could only head the ball skywards in the area. The ball then fell kindly to Kirsty Hanson who rifled a clinical volley through the legs of Moloney to put the home side 1-0 up. It’s unclear where the Halifax-born winger has pledged her international allegiance yet despite having represented Scotland previously at youth level, however, if she has committed herself to The Tartan Army, she will certainly feel hard done by having missed out on selection for Shelley Kerr’s latest squad for the upcoming international break. If she maintains this level of form it won’t be long until she receives her first senior international call up for which ever nation she chooses to represent.
Even with United’s early goal, the travelling side were certainly unfazed with going behind and pushed forward in search of an equalizer but like many before them, looked unable to penetrate United’s intimidating backline. That being said, it was nearly that very backline which lead to United’s downfall. A loose pass across the box from makeshift right-back Amy Turner was nearly The Reds’ undoing as Utland, having swapped her blood-stained shirt for a fresh one, was able to pounce and round Mary Earps in the Manchester United goal. Much to Turner’s relief Utland’s touch was too heavy and the ball ran out for a goal kick. This was a warning to Casey Stoney’s side who up until that point had withstood everything that Reading had thrown at them.
The first real chance of the second half fell to Reading goal machine Fara Williams almost directly from kick-off. A long ball from deep could only be headed up in the air by Millie Turner and Williams was able to latch onto the loose ball but her left footed effort from the edge of the area went narrowly
wide of Earps’ right hand post. This set the tone for the next 45 minutes as Reading were much the
better side and had plenty of possession in the opposition half.
The away side were doing their best to silence the ever-vocal Barmy Army and there were certainly
some nervous faces when a free-kick in prime Williams territory was controversially awarded against Hayley Ladd for a foul on Remi Allen. The 1,997 crowd held its breath in unison as the England legend swung her right boot at the ball only for it to be glanced over by Katie Zelem on the edge of the United wall.
The away side continued to drive towards the United goal but were limited to hopeful shots from
distance, one of which was a tame effort with her weak foot from Amalie Eikeland which was straight at Earps.
With time running out, Reading pressed further and further forward which meant their defence was playing a very high line. Jess Sigsworth, who had come on for Hanson, came close to exploiting this when she was played through by Jackie Groenen and she looked to have beaten Moloney but the ball bounced off the outside of the post and out.
Williams once again had a free-kick in a potentially dangerous area which this time was taken with her
left foot but it never troubled the United keeper.
Reading persisted in throwing bodies forward but the gaps at the back continued to widen and sure
enough, United got their second goal to put the game to bed. It was that combination again of Groenen and Sigsworth that unlocked the Reading defence and this time, the number nine was able to supply the crucial final touch. After maintaining possession deep in her own half, Groenen a threaded through ball in behind which left Sigsworth with acres of green grass to run into. Reading defender Howard just could not match the pace of the much fresher Sigsworth who was left to side foot the ball beyond the on- rushing Moloney to double her tally for the season.
The second goal came with five minutes remaining which meant there was very little time left for Kelly
Chambers’ team to mount one last onslaught on the United goal before the final whistle sounded.
Chambers will go away from the game recognising the need for that extra cutting edge in her side
following what was a frustrating afternoon’s play for the travelling Royals. The front-line had very few clear chances to grab a goal and therefore it was left to Moore and Williams to provide the creative spark. Even then the two Lionesses were restricted to floated balls over the top in order to pierce the home side’s defence.
Stoney’s side proved a hard nut to crack particularly with the formidable displays of Abbie McManus and Martha Harris. The United manager has always emphasised the importance of being defensively sound and with this being their fourth consecutive shut-out it will delight her. In addition, having effectively quashed the attacking threats of two of last season’s top five, Manchester United will certainly be buoyed by their performances so far and there may even be whispers of bagging some silverware in the dressing room.
By Ryan Lee Gregory (@ryanleegregory)