Manchester United are into the semi-finals of this season’s FA Women’s Continental League Cup after beating Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1 at the Leigh Sports Village this evening.
Casey Stoney’s side were desperate to bounce back following their shock defeat to Bristol City 10 days ago and they managed to do that thanks to goals from Abbie McManus and Jane Ross.
United were the dominant side in the opening 15 minutes and it looked like only a matter of time until they took the lead. They did just that through an unlikely source. A deep cross from Katie Zelem on the left went over everyone but McManus, who stayed up from a United corner, was able to poke the ball beyond debutant goalkeeper Cecilie Fiskerstrand. That was the centre-back’s first goal for her new club since her summer move from rivals Manchester City.
The home side very nearly doubled their lead on the half-hour mark. Jess Sigsworth towered above everyone else to meet a Zelem corner and her powerful header had beaten Fiskerstrand but unfortunately for the forward, it was unable to beat the bar and the ball rebounded off the woodwork although the assistant referee flagged for an offside in the second phase.
Still Brighton & Hove Albion were not without opportunities of their own and should have been level just before half-time. Matilde Lundorf was able to turn Kirsty Smith in the area but lashed at her shot and blazed the ball over. That was a warning to The Red Devils which they didn’t seem to have heeded when they came out for the second half.
After some panicky defending in the area by United defender Amy Turner, she dived in on Emily Simpkins and brought down the Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder. Referee Martin Woods pointed to the spot to give The Seagulls the chance to claw their way back into the game. It was a golden opportunity Albion and striker Ini Umotong who stepped up but her side-footed effort cannoned of the crossbar. This was a major let off for United and demonstrated how fragile their slender 1-0 lead was.
From there, Brighton & Hove Albion didn’t let up and United seemed under the cosh for a notable spell at the start of the second half. That was until the introduction of Lauren James with the player beginning to cause problems for the visiting defence. The teenager was able to feed through Jane Ross and then have an effort of her own but the final product was lacking and Fiskerstrand was able to keep out both efforts.
United did eventually have a two-goal advantage. Zelem, who had been pulling the strings all game, played a long through ball in behind Brighton & Hove Albion’s high defensive line which was latched onto by Sigsworth. The United number nine lifted her head up to pick out Ross in the middle to tap the ball home and make it 2-0.
Still the drama did not end there when Brighton & Hove Albion had yet another penalty when Martha Harris dallied on the ball and was pickpocketed by Umotong. The forward subsequently drove into the box and was brought down by Hayley Ladd just inside the area. Once again, the referee gave the decision Brighton & Hove Albion’s way much to the displeasure of the home support. This time substitute Kayleigh Green stepped up and the Welsh international hammered the ball down the middle past the diving Mary Earps. This set up a tense last 10 minutes at the Leigh Sports Village.
Brighton & Hove Albion had a good chance to level the game in stoppage time with a free kick in a dangerous area 10 yards outside of the United area. Danielle Bowman took on the responsibility and whipped the ball right footed towards goal but it was gathered up safely by Earps.
United were able to see out the remaining minutes of stoppage time and secure their qualification into the semi-finals. They will face one of Chelsea, Arsenal, or Manchester City in a carbon copy of the final four from last season’s competition.
As for Brighton & Hove Albion, they are eliminated from the competition but will surely feel buoyed by their performance against a United side who beat them 4-0 earlier in the season, who finished top of their group and who have qualified for the semi-finals two years in a row.