Report: United Women 2 Everton Women 0
Manchester United made a winning end to the Women’s Super League season following a 2-0 victory over Everton at Leigh Sports Village.
Ella Toone and Kirsty Hanson were on the scoresheet either side of half-time to ensure the Reds would finish the season with three successive wins in the league.
The result means United have registered back-to-back fourth-placed finishes in the WSL, completing a first full season in the competition with 47 points from 22 matches.
Following last weekend’s results, Champions League qualification wasn’t mathematically impossible for Casey Stoney’s side on the final day but realistically unlikely as it required a win and a 26-goal swing over Arsenal in the last round of fixtures.
That situation meant the Reds were firmly focused on ending the season on a high and made two changes to the XI from the 1-0 win at Bristol City seven days earlier, in pursuit of doing so. Jane Ross, who played a big part in that goal from the bench last week, was rewarded with a place in the starting XI for the season finale, as was Netherlands international Jackie Groenen.
The latter started the game in an attacking midfield position behind the striker, a role that Ella Toone had been occupying in recent weeks. Toone, featuring from the right this time around, made the most of the space out wide to open the scoring with the Reds’ first attack of the game six minutes in.
Christen Press superbly floated a ball in the direction of United’s no.7 who produced a perfect side-foot finish into the far bottom corner, giving the Reds the early advantage and taking her goal tally for the campaign into double digits in the process.
Providing that goal was the first of Press’ early forays in the direction of the visitors' box with the USA international enjoying a lively start to the contest. A quickfire double of attempts followed from her, both of which were blocked, with Toone’s header on the rebound to the second landing in the gloves of Everton keeper Sandy MacIver.
Having had the better of the game in the attacking third in the opening half-hour, United had work to do at the other end as the game approached half-time. Amy Turner did well to block Hayley Raso’s strike before her namesake Millie got in front of Izzy Christiansen’s goalbound effort from the resulting corner to keep the 1-0 lead intact.
The final opportunity of the half also went in the way of the visitors. Claire Emslie broke forward well and drove into the box but lifted her eventual left-footed attempt over the crossbar of Mary Earps as the Reds went into the final 45 minutes of the league season narrowly ahead.
After the interval, it was Christiansen who forced Earps into a save inside the opening 10 minutes of the half. A short corner was worked to the Everton captain who tried a looping shot, but it was watched well before being collected by the United keeper.
At the other end, Amy Turner glanced the Reds’ first chance after the break wide of the target. United’s no.4 connected with Katie Zelem’s free-kick whipped in from a deep area on the right, and left MacIver flat-footed, but her effort drifted just wide of the post.
Moments later, Press tried her luck at giving United a cushion in the game with just under 20 minutes left to play at Leigh Sports Village. The forward, who scored the second in the 2-0 win in the reverse fixture back in January, displayed some neat footwork to get some space before flashing a strike wide of the goal from around 25 yards out.
As the game entered the closing stages, the Reds weren’t for holding back and went in search of a second to make sure of the points. This time it was Toone who found some space on the edge of the penalty area but her curling effort in search of a brace was off target.
Having not found the net on that occasion, Stoney’s side did get the next goal on 89 minutes. Toone’s corner from the left found the head of substitute Kirsty Hanson from close range, who nodded into the net for her seventh goal of the campaign.
Another set-piece in the form of a Zelem free-kick, that flew just over the crossbar, nearly saw United get a third in stoppage time but two it was, with referee Louise Saunders blowing the final whistle soon after to confirm the Reds’ 2020/21 league campaign would be brought to a close in winning fashion.
Attentions now turn to the Women’s FA Cup for the Reds who host Leicester City at Leigh Sports Village in the fifth round next Sunday at 12:00 BST.
United: Earps; Batlle (Harris 68), A.Turner, M.Turner, Smith; Staniforth (Galton 61), Zelem (c); Toone, Groenen, Press (Sigsworth 90); Ross (Hanson 61).
Substitutes not used: Bentley, Ramsey, Thorisdottir, Jones.
Goals: Toone 6, Hanson 89.
Everton: MacIver; Sevecke, Finnigan, George; Wold (Lehmann 81), Scott, Christiansen (c), Pattinson (Gauvin 76); Sørensen (Graham 64), Raso, Emslie.
Substitutes not used: Korpela, Boye-Hlorkah, Magill, Clemaron, Clinton.
Referee: Louise Saunders.