United Women: Focus on our wingers

Tuesday 22 March 2022 11:30

Manchester United Women head coach Marc Skinner’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system means it’s vital our wingers offer genuine width and consistent end product.

Thankfully for Skinner, he has several wingers to call upon who have been doing this for years, along with more natural forwards – such as Ella Toone and Alessia Russo – who can fill in when required.

Leah Galton, in particular, has been in excellent form this season. Blessed with a superb left foot, the 27-year-old was voted WSL Player of the Month for January after firing three goals and one assist in our 5-0 defeat of Birmingham and 3-0 win against Tottenham.

“I know I needed to pick it up a little bit after a bit of a slow start to the season so I’m just really happy to get under way,” said Galton in her typically laser-focused mantra of improvement.

A pacy runner with the ball, Galton has adapted her game this season from the chalk-on-your-boots left-winger of past seasons to become a more direct goal threat from a slightly narrower starting position. She has even filled in as a highly attacking left-back, as seen in the 5-0 defeat of Aston Villa in December.
Galton scored our first two goals in the recent win at Reading.
Galton joined Leeds’ Academy in her teens, going on to score nine goals in 38 appearances in all competitions for the senior side between 2010 and 2012 and earning a four-year scholarship in the US at Hofstra University. She excelled, scoring 48 goals and providing a further 26 assists for Hofstra Pride, and was drafted to Sky Blue FC in New Jersey as soon as she graduated in May 2016.

Two seasons later, Galton moved to German giants Bayern Munich but after struggling to settle, she linked up with the Reds for our inaugural season in 2018/19. Since then she’s been a regular under both Skinner and his predecessor Casey Stoney.
The other winger who has been with us since our 2018/19 Championship season is Kirsty Hanson. The Scot has frequently made an impact from the start and off the bench this season, and on account of her blistering pace, the 23-year-old remains a key asset – only Ella Toone, Katie Zelem and Millie Turner have more career appearances for the Reds.

Often deployed on the right of Skinner’s attacking midfield trident, Hanson has also followed her coach’s narrower brief to great effect, getting on the ball more to create chances for Toone and Russo. She’s also a dab hand at scoring and her strike in the season-opening 2-0 defeat of Reading was the first goal to be shown live on Sky Sports as part of a multi-million-pound three-year broadcasting deal.

“It was something special,” she said, after some wild celebrations.

“I just went a bit crazy. We had fans back after the pandemic and I’d totally forgotten we were on Sky Sports. I was like, ‘I need to calm down!’”
Hanson has played 86 times in total for the Reds since signing back in 2018.

A triumph in persistence, Hanson came through our Centre of Excellence as a child before leaving for Liverpool in 2015, aged 17, in search of senior football.

Following second-tier spells at Sheffield United and Doncaster Belles – scoring an impressive 10 times in 18 league games in 2017/18 for the latter – Hanson returned to United in 2018 and played a crucial role in our promotion to the WSL.

Hanson’s mother was an elite-level athlete and it’s through Kirsty’s tireless attitude to self-improvement off the pitch – she has a degree in sports coaching and has done a course in sports business, too – that she keeps getting quicker on it.

Tickets for United Women's first game at Old Trafford in front of fans, against Everton this Sunday 27 March, are on sale at manutd.com/womenstickets.