Aston Villa 1 United Women 1 (Aston Villa win on penalties)
Manchester United Women’s excellent start to the season was halted by Aston Villa on Saturday, as the Villans defeated Marc Skinner's side on penalties in the Continental League Cup.
Skinner made nine changes for the trip to the Bescot Stadium, providing an opportunity for much of the squad who didn’t start the recent Super League win over West Ham.
Nikita Parris - one of three summer signings who were given the nod - impressed in the early stages and opened the scoring with an excellent finish just after quarter of an hour.
But after the break, Rachel Daley drew the hosts level with an instinctive finish, forcing the fixture beyond normal time.
The 1-1 score at full-time secured both one point in Group A, but it was Villa who took the bonus after the shootout.
United started the game under real pressure from the Midlands side, who had never scored a competitive goal against the Reds before today. An organised Villa worked hard in midfield, initially maintaining possession in a tight central battle.
The hosts’ combativeness was nearly rewarded early on as Daly’s smart effort bounced back off the crossbar. It was Parris, though, who would open the scoring in spectacular fashion.
Ona Batlle - named captain for the afternoon - confidently evaded pressure before laying the ball off to Parris, who gave the goalkeeper no chance before running to Skinner in celebration.
United probed for the remainder of the half but couldn’t add to the lead.
Villa came out with purpose in the second-half, as United’s intensity dropped. The hosts began to win every ball, with substitute Laura Brown adding zest and bite to their midfield. Villa fired a shot off the post, a moment that triggered Skinner into introducing Hannah Blundell, Hayley Ladd and Lucia Garcia in an attempt to regain control.
But the Reds struggled to regain control of the tie, and Daley capitalised to bring Villa level with 18 minutes remaining. Parris was closed down with greater intensity as the game wore on and made way for England hero Ella Toone, who couldn't take advantage on an excellent last-minute opportunity to take the win in normal time.
Despite Sophie Baggaley's best efforts with three penalties saves, misses from Katie Zelem, Toone, Batlle and Blundell confirmed the defeat. While it was an excellent opportunity for Skinner to rotate and give fringe players an opportunity, the result is one that he will want to rectify with the upcoming 16 October Super League clash against Brighton.
Aston Villa: Leat; Mayling, Corsie (c), Turner, Pacheco; Lehmann, Dali, McLoughlin, Boye-Hlorkah (Brown 45); Gielink (Harding 70), Daly.
Unused Subs: Hampton, Gregory, Goodwin, E. Rabjohn.
Goal: Daly 72.
United: Baggaley; Thorisdottir, Tounkara (Blundell 63), Le Tissier, Batlle (c); Moore (Ladd), Boe Risa, Parris (Toone 82), Staniforth (Zelem 45), Leon (L. Garcia 63); Thomas.
Unused Subs: Middleton-Patel, Simpson, Turner.
Goal: Parris 16.
Villa win 4-3 on penalties.