Southampton 1 United Women 3
Manchester United Women have earned a place in the Adobe Women's FA Cup quarter-final, with a 3-1 victory in the fifth-round over Southampton at the Silverlake Stadium.
An early goal for Marc Skinner's side may have given the impression that the Saints were going to prove an easy test for the Reds, but it soon became apparent that the hosts intended to compete and did so well. It was Ella Toone that netted the opener, striking the ball cleanly just outside the penalty area with too much force for Southampton goalkeeper Kayla Rendell to react in time.
Despite a relatively quiet half for Mary Earps, we were also limited to half-chances at the other end, such was the well-drilled nature of the Saints' backline. The Championship side returned from the break with greater attacking impetus, forcing a save from our no.27 early in the half, but the game soon settled back into the tightly-contested battle in the middle of the park that had been playing out throughout the game.
It looked like the Saints had found a route back into the game through a Lexi Lloyd-Smith cross that found its way into the back of the net, but a signature Rachel Williams double off the bench proved enough to send the Reds into the next round.
After a calm opening five at the Silverlake Stadium, United soon took charge of the game just after seven minutes had elapsed.
Hannah Blundell seized possession to kick the attack off and quickly sought out Lisa Naalsund, who fed the ball across to Ella Toone in the centre of the Saints' half. Our no.7 wasted no time in dispatching a sweet strike from outside the box that powered beyond the grasp of Kayla Rendell between the sticks.
The game settled into a lull following the opener, but out of nowhere in-form Nikita Parris almost doubled our lead midway through the first half. Her deflected shot looked to be going wide but caught Rendell by surprise when it clattered off the post and back into play, towards an on-rushing Leah Galton, but the Saints were able to clear their lines.
Despite the difference in divisions, the Championship's Saints, who are mounting a real challenge for WSL promotion in the league, defended resolutely throughout the first 45 minutes and limited the Reds' attempts on goal.
Naalsund found herself in a similar position to where she had executed her assist earlier in the game with half an hour gone, this time being brought down by the hosts' captain Lucia Kendall on the edge of the penalty area. Our own captain, Katie Zelem, stepped up to take the set-piece. She curled an effort around the wall but was unable to keep it inside the opposition's post.
The Reds dominated possession throughout the first period, but Southampton's defensive unit ensured we were never afforded us a clean sight of goal, meaning Skinner's side entered the break with work still to do in the second half to make this a comfortable tie.
The hosts brought some early pressure to the Reds following the interval, but the game soon settled back into a similar rhythm to the first half; United enjoying the vast majority of the possession but struggling to use it to fashion clear-cut chances on goal. A ball whipped in from a deep free-kick by Saints almost threatened an equaliser five minutes into the half, the subsequent glanced header from Southampton forward Katie Wilkinson forcing Earps into a low dive to hold on to the effort.
Parris breached the Saints defence with a rapid run on the right side just beyond the hour mark, cutting inside before firing shot into the grateful clutch of Rendell. Seconds later, the Saints launched a counter-attack that concluded with Lexi Lloyd-Smith sending an in-swinging cross into the box which evaded players from both sides, catching Earps by surprise and nestling into the bottom left corner to level the game.
Southampton looked to have grown in confidence following their equaliser, but, having been brought on just after Lloyd-Smith's goal, Rachel Williams quickly re-established the Reds' lead in the game. It was a chance created by winger Leah Galton charging down the left flank before chipping a cross over to the far post. In typical Williams style, she determinedly muscled two Saints defenders out of the way to ensure she was first to meet Galton's delivery to nod home United's second in the game.
The 36-year-old silenced any doubts that she was to be the difference maker in the tie minutes later, sealing the Reds third of the afternoon with a header, this time on the end of a Zelem corner. Williams once again outfought her marker before sending the ball underneath Rendell. It looked like the effort may have been cleared off the line, and strong appeals were made by the hosts, but the referee awarded the goal.
There were further appeals at the other end for Southampton, this time for a handball following a Millie Turner clearance, but the calls went unanswered by the referee. A consolation goal came close for the Saints two minutes into stoppage time, a late effort put just beyond the outstretched leg of Milly Mott before cannoning back off the upright to be cleared away by the Reds.
In the end, it was the two headed efforts from Williams that delivered FA Cup victory for Skinner's side, sending us into the hat for the quarter-final of the competition.
Southampton: Rendell; Peake, Rafferty, Mott, Purfield; Collett (Morris 69); Kendall, Pike (Wynne 89), Griffiths (Lloyd-Smith 46); Wilkinson, Primus (Pharoah 69).
Unused substitutes: Haaland, Thompson, Kraft, Milne, Howard.
Goals: Lloyd-Smith 65.
Bookings: Primus 69; Mott 77.
United: Earps; Blundell, Le Tissier, Turner (Mannion 90+4), Evans; Zelem, Naalsund (Guerrero 67), Toone (Ladd 83); Malard (Williams 66), Parris, Galton.
Unused substitutes: Tullis-Joyce, Chadwick, Aherne, Francis.
Goals: Toone 7; Williams 74, 82.