Manchester City Women 1 United Women 0
Manchester United Women produced a valiant display, but ultimately fell to a narrow defeat in our inaugural match in the Women's Super League against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
In front of a WSL-record crowd of 31,213, the Reds came closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half, with Jane Ross having a close-range effort saved superbly by City keeper Ellie Roebuck. The hosts took the lead soon after the restart, however, as Caroline Weir rocketed in a stunner from 20 yards, which proved to be the winner. United maintained the attacking intent though, and came within inches of drawing level late on, when Jackie Groenen hit the post.
Heading into the game, Casey Stoney handed debuts to six of our new signings. Mary Earps made her United bow in goal, with Sweden Under-23 defender Lotta Okvist and Wales international Hayley Ladd slotting in as the full-backs.
Abbie McManus started against her former club, while World Cup finalist Jackie Groenen partnered Ella Toone, and new skipper Katie Zelem, in the middle of the park. Our summer arrival from West Ham United, Jane Ross, led the line for our first game of the WSL campaign.
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Under the late-summer Manchester sunshine, the Reds made a bright start to the proceedings, with our first scoring attempt coming in the sixth minute. Leah Galton, one of five players in the starting XI from our Championship-winning season, cut in from the left and sent a long-range effort flying just over the frame of the goal.
There was cause for concern at the other end minutes later, when Earps went down clutching her foot following a late challenge by a City player moments before. After being tended to by the United medical team, the England international was able to continue.
The Reds continued to graft and Jess Sigsworth was very nearly played through after an incisive ball over the top by Ross who had dropped deep. Our top scorer from last season was denied as City stopper Ellie Roebuck rushed off her line to smother the danger.
Roebuck was called into action again halfway through the first half, as Ross came within inches of scoring on her debut. Zelem played the ball towards Galton who had made a beautifully timed run down the left. The winger whipped in a dangerous cross but Ross’s first-time shot was superbly saved by Roebuck, when the goal was at the Scottish forward’s mercy.
City had a half-chance to break the deadlock five minutes before the interval, as Keira Walsh nutmegged Ella Toone on the halfway line, before Georgia Stanway played in Caroline Weir whose crack at goal was saved with relative ease by Earps.
Still on level terms with last season's WSL runners-up, United had plenty of positives to draw on going into the break, with Zelem dictating the play from her holding role in central midfield and Groenen proving her abilities when going forward and also tracking back.
Unfortunately our hard work was undone within three minutes of the restart. Zelem’s clearance from a City corner fell to Caroline Weir, and the Scotland international unleashed a rocket of a strike from outside of the box that flew into the top-right corner to give the hosts the lead.
Although our local rivals now had something to hold on to, United continued to strive for an equaliser and Leah Galton attempted to create an attack down the left. Her cross from the acute angle couldn’t find a team-mate, but was put behind by Roebuck to give the Reds a corner.
However, from the resulting set piece, City came close to doubling their advantage. Janine Beckie drove at the Reds’ defenders who were trying to get back into position. Thankfully, Amy Turner did enough to put off the forward, whose shot from just inside the penalty area went wide of goal.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, we had our best chance to draw level. Groenen pounced on a loose ball in midfield and showed great tenacity to work her way into the box. Although the Dutch international fell over the ball she was still able to get her shot away, but it ricocheted off the post and into the grateful grasp of Roebuck.
While Weir's brilliant strike ultimately proved to be the difference, Stoney's side can take plenty of positives from our first game in the top flight of women's football. The next challenge to rise to is another big one, with reigning champions Arsenal visiting Leigh Sports Village in nine days' time.
United: Earps, Ladd, McManus, M.Turner, Okvist (A. Turner 56); Groenen, Zelem (c), Toone; Sigsworth, Ross (James 80), Galton (Hanson 76).
Subs not used: Mikalsen, Harris, Smith, Arnot.
Attendance: 31,213 (new WSL record)
NEXT HOME MATCH
United Women are next in action on Monday 16 September, as WSL champions Arsenal Women pay a visit to Leigh Sports Village. Kick off is at 19:30 BST and match tickets are on sale at www.manutd.com/womenstickets.