Manchester United have returned to winning ways in the FA Women’s Super League with a 3-1 victory over Everton at the Leigh Sports Village.
Coming into today’s fixture Casey Stoney’s side would have been looking to make up for their disappointing defeat to West Ham United last weekend but standing in their way was former assistant manager Willie Kirk, now manager of Everton.
Kirk was celebrating his one-year anniversary in charge of The Blue Girls and he probably couldn’t have planned a better way to celebrate than squaring up against his former employers. Following the last minute postponement of their match against early season favourites Chelsea, their extra week’s rest would’ve made the Merseyside club much the fresher side, on paper at least.
They got off to the perfect start when an early corner was floated into a dangerous area and a disastrous punch from Mary Earps diverted the ball into the back of her own net. She was surrounded by a hoard of Everton players but nonetheless she will be bitterly disappointed with her effort.
Thankfully for her, United responded immediately when a driving run from Jess Sigsworth down the right split open the Everton defence. Her pinpoint cross was then thundered home first time from close range by Lauren James beyond a helpless Tinja-Riikka Korpela.
James then had a crucial hand in the hosts second goal as her powerful run into the box meant that she was bearing down on goal and the Everton defence could do nothing but bring her down. It was then up to captain Katie Zelem to step up and drive the ball to Korpela’s right to give United the lead for the first time in the match.
Despite the scoreline, Everton were the better team in the opening exchanges and will feel hard done by to have gone behind. United struggled with the intensity of the high press from the travelling side and on the occasions when they were able to break into the attacking third, the compact defence proved difficult to break down.
Yet The Red Devils took their chances when they came and they made it 3-1 just before half-time. Once again it was James who was the architect as Leah Galton threaded a horizontal pass to the teenager who rolled her defender and unleashed a first time rocket from the edge of the area to give her side a two-goal lead.
An Earps mistake again nearly cost United when an under-hit clearance went straight to Inessa Kaagman and her lobbed effort beat the Lionesses goalkeeper only for her to be denied on the line by Millie Turner. That was a warning sign for United that their lead was not as commanding as they might have imagined.
Still they showed little signs of putting the game to bed as they were continuously wasteful with their through balls in the final third. The introduction of Kirsty Hanson provided a real injection of energy and the home side’s clearest sight of goal came through the Scot’s endeavour. Hanson pounced on a loose pass in the Everton half and subsequently fed Leah Galton whose low effort flashed wide of the far post.
However, Everton struggled to create too many genuine chances of their own to trouble United’s goal and could only muster up a couple of wild long range efforts from Chloe Kelly and Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah.
The defeat puts an end to Everton’s three-game winning streak in the league and they will have to pick themselves up pretty swiftly before they face Leicester City away in their final group game of the FA Women’s Continental League Cup. Wth both sides already eliminated from the competition, the game is merely dead rubber at this stage and the teams will simply be playing for pride.
As for United their attention now turns to their midweek clash with Birmingham City at the SportNation.bet Stadium knowing that if they avoid a defeat with a six-goal difference they will have cemented their place as group winners. However, Birmingham City remain very much in contention of qualifying from the group and if they were to somehow inflict a four-goal defeat on The Red Devils, they too would qualify at the expense of United’s cross-city neighbours Manchester City. Therefore, Casey Stoney’s side cannot afford to rest on the laurels and will be focused on giving themselves the best possible draw going into the last eight.