Aston Villa 1-2 Manchester United: Williams wins it late for United at Villa Park

In the wake of finishing in their highest-ever Women’s Super League finish (5th) last season, Aston Villa manager Carla Ward handed debuts to Netherlands’ number one Daphne van Domselaar and fellow recently-recruited defensive enforcer Lucy Parker.

Meanwhile, Ward’s opposite number, Marc Skinner, dealt with the departures of Alessia Russo and Ona Batlle by naming the highly sought-after Brazilian forward Geyese and Gabby George in his respective starting eleven. 

AVL: van Domselaar, Mayling, Patten, Corsie, Turner; Staniforth, Parker, Hanson; Blindkilde Brown, Daly, Lehmann

MAN: Earps, George, Tissier, Turner, Blundell; Ladd, Zelem, Toone; Galton, García; Geyse

Following a well-held minute silence at Villa Park to mourn the passing of former player Maddy Cusack, Aston Villa threatened Mary Earps’ goal almost immediately from kick-off as Lucy Staniforth’s fearsome long-range strike stung the palms of the England number with less than two minutes on the North Stand match-day clock.

Victorious in seven consecutive Women’s Super League encounters, United began to settle into the game with every passing minute, as Daphne van Domselaar produced a sublime save to deny fellow debutant Geyse.

After impressing for Brazil at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Geyse continued her eye-catching form throughout the proceedings of the first half, as newly-appointed Villa captain Rachel Corsie was forced to bring down the exciting summer signing at the expense of an appearance of the yellow card from referee Rebecca Welch’s pocket.

However, Geyse would soon join Corsie in the book after a clash in the air with Danielle Turner. With half-time on the horizon, United continued to mount an unrelenting period of pressure in and around the final third, as only a number of last-ditch defensive interceptions prevented the game’s opening goal from hitting the back of the net. 

Keen to improve her side’s fortunes in front of goal, Carla Ward replaced Laura Blindkilde Brown with Ebony Salmon – for her second spell at the club – at the beginning of the second half. However, it would be United who continued where they left off at the conclusion of the opening 45 minutes, as Ella Toone expertly kept the ball in play before forcing an instinctive save from van Domselaar at her near post. 

Seeking to repeat last season’s accolade in front of goal against the backdrop of a record attendance for a Women’s Super League match at Villa Park – 12,533 – Rachel Daly came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock in the 66th minute, as the 2022/23 Golden Boot winner clipped the paintwork on top of the crossbar with a sublime half-volley from just inside the area. 

In a blink of an eye, it appeared the tide of the game could turn the way of United, as Kirsty Hanson was shown a straight red card for a high boot on former teammate Hayley Ladd. However, that would not to be the case, as Daily fired Villa into a 76th-minute lead with an exquisite piece of skill to get away from the marker in the area, that allowed the England international to sublimely fire past Earps.

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Ominously, Hanson’s dismissal would come back to haunt Villa, as Lucía García opened her goalscoring account on debut with a clinical close-range finish that left van Domselaar with no chance of making a save.

Ultimately, United would make their numerical advantage count at the beginning of ten minutes of second-half stoppage time, as substitute Rachel Williams planted a sublimely-timed header past van Domselaar.

Villa will now reattempt to get their 2023/24 Women’s Super League campaign off to a winning start in a week’s time as they travel to Prenton Park to face Liverpool. Manchester United will come head-to-head with Arsenal on Friday evening at Leigh Sports Village.

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