With the knowledge that Chelsea had comfortably defeated Arsenal at Kingsmeadow earlier in the day, Marc Skinner’s Manchester United side knew that only a win against Manchester City would be enough to keep their title dreams alive for another week.
MUN: Earps; Blundell, Turner, Le Tissier, Batlle; Zelem, Ladd; Galton, Toone, Parris; Russo
MCI: Roebuck; Ouahabi, Greenwood, Houghton, Morgan; Angeldahl, Hasegawa; Hemp, Coombs, Kelly; Shaw
United fans didn’t have to wait very long at all to take the lead at Leigh Sports Village, as Hayley Ladd opened the scoring in the second minute. Nikita Parris did well to dispossess Yui Hasegawa, and the ball ultimately fell to Ladd on the edge of the penalty area. Her strike nestled beautifully in the top corner, leaving Ellie Roebuck with no chance of making the save.
However, City had the majority of possession and they looked to make it count ten minutes later as Lauren Hemp sent Khadija Shaw forwards. The rapid Jamaican darted past Maya Le Tissier, though United were eventually putting the ball out for a corner.
From a corner, Katie Zelem played a quick one-two with Nikita Parris before thundering a cross into the box. Her delivery was met by Leah Galton at the near post, but the prolific winger’s headed effort was sent just over the crossbar.
Twenty minutes in, Shaw came close to levelling the score – but for a block from Hannah Blundell that looked set to bring an end to the opportunity. Chloe Kelly didn’t take no for an answer though, pouncing on the loose ball and thumping a strike against the woodwork.
Just moments before half time, the visitors were reduced to ten after a reckless challenge from Ellie Roebuck led to her dismissal. There were concerns that Nikita Parris may have been offside, but the winger was on the receiving end of a mistimed challenge from the City ‘keeper. The referee was quick to show a red card, and Leila Ouahabi made way for young showstopper Khiara Keating.
United looked to pounce on Keating’s inexperience, as Leah Galton managed to get on the end of Ona Batlle’s ball into the box. The winger had to stretch for it, and ultimately Keating was untested as the shot was sent wide of the post. City trailed their local rivals at the break – and despite showing signs of promise, clinching a result would be increasingly difficult with their newfound numerical disadvantage.
There was to be a chance for the visitors soon after play resumed, as Chloe Kelly did well to get onto Alex Greenwood’s delivery. Despite missing the header, she managed to poke the ball towards goal with her shoulder – though that crashed off the crossbar. Filippa Angeldahl looked to pick up the pieces from the edge of the box, but that strike was never going to challenge Mary Earps as it sailed over the woodwork.
As the hour mark drew closer, City were unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty as Khadija Shaw was fouled inside the penalty area by Hayley Ladd. With no VAR in operation, the referee’s decision wasn’t able to be overturned, despite replays showing that City had certainly been hard done by.
Ten minutes later, Gareth Taylor’s side finally found their equaliser. A poorly cleared corner fell to Angeldahl on the right flank, and her cross back into the box sailed over Mary Earps and into the back of the net via the far post. It was certainly a bizarre strike, but the visitors wouldn’t care as they were level in the Manchester derby.
There were chances at both ends inside the final ten minutes, as Keating was able to save Vilde Boe Risa’s strike before Lucia Garcia thundered an effort into her own leg. At the other end, Chloe Kelly struck a ball across the face of goal – Hayley Raso wasn’t expecting it though, and the ball flew behind for a goal kick.
Khadija Shaw looked set to steal the points in the dying minutes, but for a great challenge from Maya Le Tissier to deny the Jamaican forward from ten yards out. Stoppage time would give the hosts one last chance to bag a late winner and preserve their title hopes – though even then, they’d rely on Reading pulling off a huge upset next weekend.
Lucia Garcia got the memo though, bagging in the 91st minute to send the United fans into euphoria. Hannah Blundell’s cross was nodded back towards the Spanish international by Vilde Boe Risa, and she made no mistake – hammering an effort through a crowded box to restore United’s lead.
Marc Skinner’s side were able to hold on throughout the remainder of stoppage time, and the Red Devils will now look to round off their season with a win on the road at Liverpool next weekend. They’ll need three points in that game if they’re to win the league, while simultaneously hoping that Reading can stun Chelsea at the Madejski.