Match report: United Women 2 Reading 0
Manchester United kicked off the new Women's Super League season with a 2-0 victory over Reading at Leigh Sports Village.
Kirsty Hanson netted United's first goal of the campaign in front of the returning support at Leigh Sports Village on 39 minutes, latching onto Ella Toone's pass before producing a finish that found the bottom corner.
After the break, Ona Batlle doubled the lead to ensure that we would pick up all three points from our 2021/22 season opener, making for a winning start to new head coach Marc Skinner's reign.
A winning start! gallery
Marc Skinner's United overcame Reading to register victory on the opening night of the new WSL season.
The new head coach handed debuts to three summer signings on the league's opening night with Hannah Blundell, Aoife Mannion and Vilde Boe Risa all named in his first starting XI of the campaign.
It was a groundbreaking evening for the women's game with the match the first-ever to be televised live on Sky Sports, as part of a new broadcasting deal for the 2021/22 season.
The visitors created the first real opportunities of the encounter in front of the cameras, with Brooke Chaplen firing the opening effort of the contest over the crossbar from range before Blundell made her first mark for United, producing a last-ditch block to divert Amalie Eikeland's low strike away from danger.
The 'Barmy Army' made a welcome return to the Leigh Sports Village stands for the first time since January 2020, and they nearly got to see their first goal back in person, just after the midway point in the first half.
Lucy Staniforth's whipped cross from the right made its way through the box and found Leah Galton, but the winger, returning from injury for her first competitive appearance in 19 months, sliced over the bar.
The chance looked to provide an injection of confidence for the Reds, who possessed more of the ball in the minutes that followed before the close of the half. Within that period, Skinner's side netted the game's opening goal on 39 minutes.
Toone fed through Hanson who produced a smart first-time finish with the outside of her boot to beat the goalkeeper and give United a 1-0 lead going into the break.
Moments into the second half, the visitors could not have gone closer to drawing level. Chaplen produced another fierce strike on goal, with this one cannoning down off the crossbar and into the goalmouth, but the ball was judged not to have crossed the line by the officials.
The score stayed at 1-0 and shortly after, the Reds took the opportunity to double the advantage. Batlle, our 2020/21 Women's Player of the Year, played a swift one-two with Toone before picking out the top corner to extend the lead with her first goal for the club.
Second-half substitutions also provided positive sights for those watching from the stands in Leigh, as Martha Thomas was introduced from the bench for her competitive debut on 66 minutes, alongside Jackie Groenen, who was making her first appearance since returning from her exploits with the Netherlands at the Tokyo Olympics over the summer.
Thomas looked lively upon her entrance and nearly made a lightning quick start to her United career in the closing stages. Having been flagged offside with an earlier opportunity, our no.9 continued her impressive cameo by cutting in from the left and curling just wide of the posts.
Fellow substitute, Reading's Jeon Ga-eul then went close at the other end as the visitors looked to get back into the game. Her diving header flashed across the goal as the minutes continued to tick down.
Even without a full pre-season behind her, Groenen was looking right at home in the middle of the park for United upon her introduction, as she continued to build up her match fitness. The Dutch international attempted to help navigate the Reds' search for a third goal of the evening and tried her own luck at getting it late on, with what would be the final real opening of the match, curling off target.
Two goals were enough though for Skinner's side in the end, kicking off his tenure, and our Women's Super League campaign, with victory in front of over 2,000 supporters on home soil.
United: Earps; Blundell, Thorisdottir, Mannion, Batlle; Zelem (c), Boe Risa (Russo 75), Staniforth (Groenen 66); Hanson, Toone (Thomas 66), Galton.
Subs not used: Baggaley, Ladd, Fuso, Smith, Turner, Jones.
Booked: Staniforth 35.
Scorers: Hanson 39, Batlle 54.
Reading: Moloney; Bryson, Cooper, Evans, Woodham; Rowe, Peplow, Chaplen; Harding (c) (Jeon 71), Harries, Eikeland.
Subs not used: Stewart; Roberts, Rowe, Lister, Wild.
Referee: Abigail Byrne.