Report: United Women 5 Aston Villa 0
Manchester United Women made it a winning end to 2021 following a 5-0 victory over Aston Villa at Leigh Sports Village.
The Reds raced into an early two-goal lead in the WSL encounter, courtesy of Ella Toone's opener and captain Katie Zelem's penalty in front of the home crowd.
That advantage would also be the difference at the break, before Lucy Staniforth and Martha Thomas got on the scoresheet in the second half.
Toone completed the scoring in the closing stages with her second of the match, to round off a perfect end to the calendar year for Marc Skinner's side.
A five-star finish to 2021!Gallery
See the best images from the Reds' 5-0 win over Aston Villa, in our final game of the calendar year.
Buoyed by back-to-back 2-0 wins against Everton and Brighton in the last week, United made a confident start in the foggy early-afternoon conditions at Leigh Sports Village. The Reds dominated the ball in the opening stages with our first real opportunity of the encounter falling to Alessia Russo, who fired a low drive into the side-netting from a tight angle.
Marc Skinner's side had to be patient in possession to break down the well-structured visiting Villans before producing a fine sweeping move when the moment arose, to open the scoring eight minutes in. Ladd played the ball into the path of Vilde Boe Risa, who swivelled and picked out Toone just inside the left of the penalty area, with our no.7 taking a touch to set herself before rolling the ball into the far bottom corner.
One would deservedly become two just five minutes later, after Ladd was brought down inside the box by Villa goalkeeper Hannah Hampton. The Welsh international drew contact while trying to take Staniforth's through-ball around the keeper, with captain Zelem stepping up to convert the subsequent penalty and double our advantage.
Toone's earlier strike was her fourth in our five total meetings with the Midlands club, and the forward nearly added to that tally shortly before the half-hour mark. Ella drove forward from a central area before driving just wide of the target.
It could still have been a three-goal lead at the interval, but for some brilliant defending from the away side. First, a good block diverted Ladd's goal-bound strike away from the target before Russo was denied her fifth goal of the season after her improvised half-volley was superbly cleared off the line, on the stretch by a Villa defender.
That third goal may not have been forthcoming at the latter end of the first half but the Reds were rewarded with it in the opening stages of the second period. Russo won the ball high up the pitch before setting up Staniforth who made no mistake with a curled finish into the net.
That was unfortunately one of the midfielder's last acts in the game however, as Lucy looked to have picked up an injury before being replaced by Kirsty Hanson shortly before the hour mark.
The latter was keen to make an impact from the bench and did just that on 73 minutes. The Scotland international tricked her way into the penalty area before battling brilliantly to get a cross off and pick out fellow substitute Thomas, who guided the ball into an empty net from close range with a cushioned header, to make it 4-0.
But it wasn't to stay at four for long, as United made it five with just over 10 minutes left to play. Toone, who opened the scoring, completed it too, firing a first-time drive past the goalkeeper after the ball had broken to her inside the box.
Our no.7 was inches away from making it six and a hat-trick for herself in stoppage time, but sliced another first-time effort just wide of the target. It would take nothing away from a comprehensive display however, that sees Skinner's side go into the winter break with back-to-back wins in the WSL.
United: Earps; Smith (Thomas 65), Mannion, Turner (Thorisdottir 65), Galton; Zelem (c), Ladd; Staniforth (Hanson 59), Boe Risa (Fuso 77), Toone, Russo.
Subs not used: Baggaley, Murphy.
Bookings: Hanson 76, Mannion 90+1.
Aston Villa: Hampton (Rogers 64); Mayling, N'Dow, Sargeant, Pacheco; Allen (c), Littlejohn (Arthur 56), Petzelberger; Gielnik (McLoughlin 80), Boye-Hlorkah, Lehmann.
Subs not used: Asante, Hutton, Gregory, Davison, Hayles.
Bookings: Littlejohn 52.
Goals: Toone 8, 79, Zelem (pen) 13, Staniforth 51, Thomas 73.