Southampton 1-3 Manchester United: Williams at the double as Red Devils fend off spirited Saints

Last year’s finalists, Manchester United, made the trip to a sold-out Silverlake Stadium to face Southampton in the fifth round of the Adobe Women’s FA Cup on Sunday. The Championship side had already bettered their third-round exit in their previous campaign, and are currently chasing promotion to the Barclays Women’s Super League. United, meanwhile, are four points outside the UEFA Women’s Champions League qualification spots, and may well be viewing the FA Cup as their last chance of silverware this season.

SOU: Rendell, Mott, Rafferty, Peake, Collett, Kendall, Primus, Purfield, Pike, Wilkinson, Griffiths

MUN: Earps, Blundell, Turner, Le Tissier, Evans, Naalsund, Zelem, Mallard, Toone, Galton, Parris

The WSL side started the game showing strong attacking intent, with the first shot on goal coming from Lisa Naalsund just outside the box, but it was easily collected by Kayla Rendell. The hosts came out fighting too, looking up for the occasion but struggling to build any sustained possession initially. 

United’s quality gave them the lead inside ten minutes; good movement from Hannah Blundell helped the ball find Ella Toone in space outside the box, and she took just one touch before burying it behind Rendell. 

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The Reds continued to dominate after going ahead; Southampton couldn’t get hold of the ball and United’s back line faced little pressure, looking comfortable. Toone had another potential goal involvement just minutes after putting her side ahead, but her cross was calmly dealt with by Rendell.

Top scorer Nikita Parris had a chance to double the lead after being played in by Naalsund, but the former England international could only hit the post. United made a few attempts to catch the Saints out with a long ball, but to Southampton’s credit, they were organised enough to avoid the danger of an overload. United’s only other real chance was Katie Zelem’s curled freekick, which went just wide of the goal. 

Southampton struggled to create clear-cut chances for most of the first half, but did grow into the game; they began to apply slightly more pressure in the ten minutes before halftime, having a speculative effort blocked in the aftermath of Paige Peake’s free-kick. They were able to build their first real spell of pressure, building from the back and Jemma Purfield looking to cross in from the left – but they couldn’t penetrate the United defence and their efforts came to naught.

Southampton started the second half with purpose, with Marieanne Spacey-Cale shaking up the side by introducing Lexi Lloyd-Smith. The first clear cut chance came for the home side, as Purfield whipped a free-kick in towards a tangle of bodies at the back post in the 50th minute. Atlanta Primus got on the end of it, but Mary Earps was able to collect.

Southampton enjoyed more of the ball in the third quarter, with United not showing the same flair and quality that had been so obvious in Toone’s opening goal. Both sides were able to move the ball nicely, with possession much more evenly shared, but neither keeper was really tested in the first twenty minutes of the half; Parris controlled the ball well to pass Peake but her left-footed effort was an easy take for Rendell.

United’s lacklustre start to the half was punished in the 65th minute. As the scoring had been opened with a moment of individual quality, It was the substitute Lexi Lloyd-Smith who would equalise for Southampton in the same manner. Gemma Evans perhaps gifted Lloyd-Smith a little too much space and a good view of the goal, and her sublime left-footed strike somehow found its way past Mary Earps, who didn’t anticipate the threat until it was too late – the scores were, deservedly, level.

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Marc Skinner made two changes as play resumed, with Rachel Williams and Irene Guerrero replacing Melvine Malard and Lisa Naalsund – but momentum had swung well and truly in the hosts’ favour, with three more attempts on goal in the six minutes following the equaliser. Earps’ goal was under pressure again after a shaky pass back from Evans, forcing the goalkeeper to clear wildly.

But Marc Skinner’s substitution paid off after 74 minutes – Leah Galton drive down the left hand side and her cross found the super-sub Rachel Williams at the back post, who rose above Millie Mott to head home and put the WSL side back in the lead.

Southampton will have felt hard done to to fall behind with only fifteen minutes to find an equaliser, and continued to play with intent – but United had been reawakened, and Williams completed a brace in the 82nd minute. Katie Zelem’s corner found the forward for a header in much the same position as her first goal – and despite denials from the Southampton defence, referee Jade Wardle adjudged the ball to have crossed the line. With no goal line technology to review it, the goal stood and Southampton were left with a mountain to climb in the last ten minutes.

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Another decision went against the hosts minutes later, when they felt they were denied a penalty; Jemma Purfield forced a brilliant save from Earps, but it was pushed into the arm of Millie Turner, sparking calls for handball. The Saints kept pushing right to the last minute and came within inches of a second goal in stoppage time; captain Lucia Charlotte Kendall laid it off for what should have been a tap in for Milly Mott, but she just missed the ball and slid over the goalline without it.

Marieanne Spacey-Cale’s side can take a host of positives from their performance, which will not have disappointed the thousands of fans who travelled to Eastleigh to see them; they showed WSL-level quality at times and the experience should bolster their self-belief as they continue the fight for promotion. Having survived a scare from a seriously determined Southampton side, United will discover their quarter-final opponents in the tomorrow night live on the BBC. Marc Skinner’s side will likely need to put on a far more convincing performance to progress further.