Manchester United 2-0 Bristol City: Lisa Naalsund double secures the points in otherwise dull encounter

In Manchester United’s first home game since February 4, the Red Devils hosted bottom-of-the-table Bristol City. Lauren Smith’s side have had two weeks off since their gutting 7-3 defeat to Brighton, whereas United entered the match on a high from their Cup victory over the same side last week.

MUN: Earps; Riviere, Le Tissier, Turner, Blundell; Zelem, Naalsund; Garcia, Toone, Malard, Parris

BCI: Yanez; Powell, Aspin, Connolly, Struck, Napier; Morgan, Rodgers, Syme, Hayles; Thestrup

United started on the front foot, quickly establishing dominance of the ball, and the visitors struggled to get out of their half. Lucia Garcia looked lively and Jamie-Lee Napier gave the hosts their first direct chance, going into the book for a challenge on the Spaniard just outside the box. 

The resulting free-kick from Katie Zelem drifted easily into Shae Yañez’s gloves, but it wasn’t long before a teammate found the back of the net. Lisa Naalsund, for her first WSL goal of the season, received the ball from Garcia and rolled it neatly onto her left foot for the finish.

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The first half was uneventful other than Naalsund’s opener; United continued to hoard the ball but failed to record another shot on goal. Bristol City’s best chance of scoring looked to be on the counter attack, and Marc Skinner will have been keenly aware of their opponents’ goalscoring talent in players like Amelie Thestrup – as well as his own side’s habit of conceding in leading positions this season. 

After the break, Bristol City suffered another blow with the forced withdrawal of Shania Hayles; Thestrup set up the forward who struck the woodwork, but then collided with Jayde Riviere and was unable to continue.

With a little over half an hour remaining, and the memory of conceding an 85th-minute equaliser to West Ham still painfully fresh, United were looking to capitalise on their dominance of the ball and give themselves breathing room. Marc Skinner made use of his squad’s attacking depth, replacing Melvine Malard with Geyse.

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The Robins, however, looked more energised and also revitalised their team from the bench – the introduction of Abi Harrison quickly yielded two corners but nobody could turn them into goals. United kept seeking a second, with Maya Le Tissier bursting forward and carrying the ball almost the whole way to the Bristol City goal, but passed to Ella Toone who failed to find the net. Garcia had the Reds‘ best chance of the second half, curling a shot from the edge of the box just wide of the post.

Around the 75-minute mark, Marc Skinner’s side began to step up their efforts and after Jamie-Lee Napier was dismissed for a reckless challenge on Geyse that earned her a second yellow card, the visitors faced a difficult closing period.

Yañez had to make a save to keep out Millie Turner’s headed effort, and substitute Rachel Williams fired over the bar from range. Garcia again came within inches of goal with her flicked header from Katie Zelem’s delivery, and Geyse had her own opportunity – but in the end it was Lisa Naalsund who would secure herself a brace, and seal the win for United, in the 95th minute. The midfielder received the ball from a corner kick and hooked it in, just out of Yañez’s reach, to finally kill the game.

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It was far from a classic, with Naalsund’s goals the only two shots on target of the whole 98 minutes. The result leaves Bristol City six points adrift of table neighbours West Ham, and Manchester United’s vanishingly small European hopes still just about alive as they trail Arsenal by the same distance.

The Red Devils are back in action next Saturday when they face local rivals Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, and Lauren Smith’s side host Adobe Women’s FA Cup semifinalists Tottenham at Ashton Gate on Sunday.