United edge past Spurs in narrow WSL win

Marc Skinner’s Manchester United travelled to North London today, to take on Tottenham Hotspur in a midday kickoff. A 2-1 win for the visitors saw them return to the top of the WSL table, though Chelsea sit just a point behind and have a game in hand over United.

United started strongly, with Katie Zelem playing an instrumental role in the buildup play. Spurs weren’t pinned back in their own half for too long, though – as Bethany England surged down the left flank before firing in a cross, though Mary Earps was able to deal with the chance.

Korpela was soon called into action as Leah Galton tipped a cross from Alessia Russo towards goal, and the Finnish keeper came to claim it comfortably. At the other end of the pitch, Ashleigh Neville broke through the United defence to unleash a shot that rifled off the woodwork – but she was offside anyways.

A beautiful passage of play saw Russo find Toone, who in turn sent a ball over the top to Galton – but once again, Korpela was positioned well and made the save to deny United the lead. Galton did find the back of the net just a few minutes later, but she was ruled to be offside.

Ashleigh Neville found her way through United’s defence yet again before laying the ball off to Spurs’ star signing Beth England, who blazed her shot over the bar – but the buildup play was a sign of promising things to come for the hosts, who had been providing a tough challenge for United.

Drew Spence played in Iwabuchi later on in the first half, though the Arsenal loanee was quite clearly offside – and there was nothing to separate the two teams as they headed into the interval. Both teams had certainly had a handful of chances, but the final finishing touches were missing.

United were awarded a free-kick after Spence committed a foul on the flank – and Zelem played a quick one-two with Toone before firing a cross into Galton at the back post, but it was millimetres too high and the winger wasn’t able to nod it past Korpela.

Zelem stood over yet another free-kick from a dangerous position just a few minutes later – this time deciding to take on the shot herself, but she curled her effort a few inches wide of the near post. United didn’t have to wait long for their next chance, as Hannah Blunder cut the ball back to Russo, but the forward’s shot creeped just wide.

Ella Toone cut inside after a blistering run down the right flank, unleashing a shot towards the far corner – but her strike hit the post and deflected back into play. United’s strong travelling contingent in the ground were impressed by the chance, and they made it known by drowning out the Spurs support.

Drew Spence received the first yellow card of the match after getting involved in a scrap between Summanen and Ladd, shortly before United finally found an opener that would really bring this fixture to life. Ona Batlle’s cross from the right flank found the winger, who took a touch before unleashing a tidy strike into the back of the net from the centre of the box.

Spurs instantly upped the pressure, with Ayane firing a multitude of crosses into the box, though they were all met by a resilient United defence. They found an equaliser a few minutes later though – breaking free on a counterattack after a half-hearted penalty appeal by the visitors. Beth England’s surging run was followed by a fine finish into the far corner, bringing the hosts level and sending the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium into euphoria.

That euphoria didn’t last long though – less than a minute in fact. Manchester United break forward immediately from kickoff, and a cross into the box is put into the back of the net by a sliding Molly Bartrip. It’s an unfortunate own goal by the Spurs defender, who’d otherwise been defensively solid – though that’ll be no consolation.

The game was really heating up, and Ella Toone was dismissed for violent conduct after slamming Eveliina Summanen into the ground after a challenge. Amy Fearn was quick to show the United forward a straight red card, leaving United down to ten players for the last ten minutes.

Lucia Garcia – introduced as a sub just before United’s first goal – dribbled past a handful of white shirts, with her close control allowing her to retain possession, but ultimately her finish was launched straight into the hands of Korpela.

Beth England and Rosella Ayane both had chances in the dying minutes, though neither were able to convert and bring their side level for a second time. United head back north with all three points, after Leah Galton’s opener was levelled out by Beth England’s strike, before Molly Bartrip’s own goal cemented a win for the visitors.

United now sit at the top of the WSL table, though they’ll rely on Chelsea dropping points if they wish to keep that position for long. Emma Hayes’ side are just one point behind the Red Devils, with a game in hand. As for Spurs, they sit ninth in the league – narrowly ahead of Brighton who could leapfrog them if they win their game in hand. However, they also face competition from a rapidly improving Leicester side, who have put out some impressive performances under Willie Kirk and have benefitted from one of the best January transfer windows in the league.

United will face Leicester next time out in the league, and Spurs also face a trip to Manchester – though they’ll be against Manchester City at the Academy Stadium. The WSL table is really heating up, and these last few games could really change the course of the season!

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