United Women 2 Leicester City Women 3
Manchester United were knocked out of the Vitality Women’s FA Cup at the fifth-round stage on Sunday following a 3-2 defeat to Leicester City at Leigh Sports Village.
Jess Sigsworth and Jane Ross had twice put United ahead, either side of a Shannon O’Brien equaliser, before two second-half goals in quick succession from Hannah Cain and Natasha Flint ensured the visitors would progress into the last eight of the competition that will be completed next season.
It means United finish the campaign with defeat in Casey Stoney’s last game in charge after it was announced that the head coach would be stepping down from her role after the match, earlier in the week.
Off the back of securing a second successive fourth-place finish in the Women’s Super League last weekend, attentions turned to the FA Cup to close out the 2020/21 campaign.
Stoney made five changes from the win over Everton on the last day of the league season for her final game in the United dugout, with Leah Galton one of those coming into the line-up for her first start since February following her recent return from an ankle injury.
The winger was involved right from the off and nearly had the opener inside three minutes. Kirsty Hanson drove down the right flank before picking out Galton in the box who couldn’t quite direct her close-range headed effort goalbound.
Hanson, who netted the Reds’ final goal of the league campaign in the closing minutes of last Sunday’s win, was enjoying a confident start to the tie on that right side. United’s no.18 created a pair of chances for Sigsworth next, either side of the 10-minute mark, but after the forward drove the first one wide, the second was well saved by the foot of Leicester goalkeeper Kirstie Levell.
The Foxes’ stopper was forced into action again as United’s front-foot beginning to the game continued, denying Galton before Ross fired narrowly wide after a well-worked corner from the left.
The Reds did get the reward for continued persistence just after the half-hour mark. Galton drove forward before playing in Sigsworth who faked the shot to work some space before slamming home to give United the lead with her fourth goal of the campaign.
Leicester were making United work to stretch the opening however and were starting to grow in confidence themselves. The recent FA Women’s Championship winners got forward as the first half ticked into stoppage time and were clinical in getting an equaliser.
Natasha Flint held the ball up well before finding O’Brien who picked out the bottom corner on the turn to level the game up going into the break.
After the interval, Stoney’s side looked to retake that lead and would have done on 57 minutes but for another good stop from Levell in the Leicester goal. Sigsworth and Hanson combined well before the latter’s strike bound for the top corner was diverted away by the keeper.
The Reds did find a way through again just before the hour-mark however to go back ahead. Ona Batlle, a half-time substitute introduced in place of Galton who is continuing to manage her minutes following her recent return from injury, played a neat one-two with Ross who drove inside from the right and saw her low strike take a deflection before finding the net to make it 2-1.
Batlle, who was presented with the Women’s Player of the Year award as voted for by her team-mates and coaching staff before the match, was continuing to make an impact fresh from the bench. The Spaniard’s looping header went close to extending the Reds’ lead after she ghosted in at the back post, but the Foxes did well to clear it behind on the line.
From the resulting corner, Sigsworth pulled away to the back stick and met the delivery from the right, but her header at goal was also turned away, this time via a strong parry from Levell.
The visitors were continuing to battle at Leigh Sports Village and capitalised on a defensive error to come from behind for the second time in the match shortly before 70 minutes.
Maria Thorisdottir’s short back-pass was pounced upon by Hannah Cain, who poked the ball past the on-rushing Mary Earps to level the tie at 2-2.
The Foxes then turned the game on its head with a second goal in the space of three minutes to go in front. Flint chased down a lofted ball before displaying some good skill and picking out the bottom corner.
United needed to find a response and made a double change in pursuit of doing so with top scorer Ella Toone introduced alongside Carrie Jones. The latter came close to finding the target minutes later, turning the ball just wide of the target after she was picked out by Lucy Staniforth’s pass into the box from the left side of the area.
The visitors weren’t settling on three however and looked to secure the victory with just under five minutes to play. Flint, who had scored what looked to be the all-important goal in the match, tried her luck from the edge of the box but her drilled effort could only find the side-netting of Earps’ goal.
Five minutes were added on at the end of the 90, and despite a succession of late corners and persistent pressure on the visiting goal, Leicester held firm to condemn United to FA Cup defeat that would see the Reds finish the season, and Stoney’s reign, by bowing out of the competition in the fifth round.
United: Earps; Harris, Thorisdottir, M.Turner, Smith; Zelem (c), Ross (Jones 75), Staniforth; Hanson, Sigsworth (Toone 75), Galton (Batlle 46).
Subs not used: Bentley, A.Turner.
Goals: Sigsworth 32, Ross 59.
Leicester City: Levell; Smith, Tierney, Plumptre, Howard; Allen, Barker (c); Flint, Cain, Paul; O’Brien (Devlin 60).
Subs not used: Lambourne, Harris, Riglar, Fleming, Thomas, Ferguson, Wood, Camwell.
Goals: O’Brien 45+1, Cain 69, Flint 71.
Referee: Rebecca Welch.