Manchester United’s rich vein of form continued with a 3-0 victory at Everton in the FA Women’s Continental League Cup this afternoon.
The hosts have been vastly improved this season under the tutelage of former United assistant manager Willie Kirk but he could do nothing to stop a repeat result of last year’s FA Women’s Continental League Cup meeting between the two sides.
The result now makes it five wins out of five for Casey Stoney’s United team, including a clean sheet in each of those victories.
United were on top from the early stages of the game and nearly took the lead when Leah Galton managed to get on the end of a corner and directed the ball goalwards only to be thwarted by some good keeping from Tinja-Riikka Korpela. Yet it wasn’t long after when the Finnish goalkeeper was eventually beaten.
The away team opened the scoring on 22 minutes when Kirsty Hanson won the ball high up the pitch and played in Lauren James. It took some neat footwork from the teenager to create the space needed to rifle her left footed effort into the top corner.
Manchester United nearly doubled their lead shortly after when Millie Turner’s point blank header was superbly saved by Korpela.
Everton were almost rewarded for keeping United at bay when a great display of tenacity and endeavour from forward Hannah Cain saw her knock Abbie McManus off the ball and unleash a shot which was smartly saved by Mary Earps with her feet. That was Everton’s best opportunity of the half and it will have given them some optimism going into half-time that they might be able to draw the game level or even go on to win.
It was United who were the most industrious of the two sides after the break and they were close to getting their second goal in the opening three minutes of the half. An attempted clearance from Hanson’s cross fell kindly
to James who took the shot first time but a certain goal was denied by a combination of goalkeeper and defender.
Smelling blood, The Red Devils continued to push forward and a neat ball played through by James allowed Hanson to run onto the ball but Korpela was swiftly off her line to block the Scot’s chipped effort to keep her team in the game once again.
United’s dominance was nearly undone when Inessa Kaagman was clean through for Everton and looked destined to draw her side level but Earps was quickly off her line made herself big to deny the hosts from their best chance of the game.
Everton were then made to rue their missed opportunities when James was tripped by Gabby George in the area and the referee pointed to the spot. United’s captain Katie Zelem stepped up and she tucked away the resultant penalty beyond Korpela despite the in-form keeper guessing the right way and coming agonisingly close to saving it.
United did not stop there and persisted to drive forward and put the game truly to bed. They almost got their third when Hanson powered through on the counter attack and made it to the edge of the box before unleashing a left footed effort despite being clearly dragged back by French international Maeva Clemaron. Once again, Korpela was equal to it to deny Hanson a dream goal in the week she received her first call up to the Scottish national team.
United’s third did eventually come from an unlikely source in centre-back-cum-right-back Amy Turner. The Reds’ number four drove forward down the wing into the area and lifted her head to pick out a pass. Yet, when it seemed like nothing was on she let fly with a venomous shot which completely bamboozled Korpela at her near post. It was only the defender’s fourth goal of her career and her third in a United shirt.
Everton’s misery was compounded when, deep into stoppage time, star player Chloe Kelly was given her marching orders by the referee after a second bookable offence. This means that the FA Women’s Super League’s top scorer will now miss the clash against Merseyside rivals Liverpool taking place at Anfield later this month.
United now sit top of their group, level on points Birmingham City and Manchester City with six but with a superior goal difference which could make all the difference when it comes to the final standings. Everton on the other hand still haven’t got off the mark and with tricky fixtures against Manchester City and away at FA Women’s Championship side Leicester City left they are relying on results elsewhere if they are to make it through to the knockout stages.
In contrast, Manchester United are in a very strong position with a game in hand over their city rivals. Victory over Leicester City in their next group game will all but guarantee their progression out of the group. Stoney’s side will then be looking to finish top of the group in the hope of earning a favourable quarter-final draw.
By Ryan Lee Gregory (@ryanleegregory)