United Women 0 Reading Women 2
Manchester United Women's historic first home game as a professional team ended in defeat but only after a positive display against experienced opponents Reading.
The top-flight team were made to work hard by Casey Stoney's fledgling side before second-half goals from Brooke Chaplen and Gemma Davison, either side of a red card for Royals defender Molly Bartrip, earned the visitors a second Group Two North win in the Continental Tyres League Cup.
Both teams were unchanged, as United's head coach Casey Stoney and her opposite number Kelly Chambers understandably kept faith with the line-ups that saw off Liverpool 1-0 and Durham 4-1 respectively in the opening games of this competition.
The Reds fashioned the first notable chance in the ninth minute, when Mollie Green found Katie Zelem in central midfield and United's no.10 played a precise left-footed pass into the area. Jess Sigsworth was swiftly on to it behind the Reading backline but although the assistant's flag stayed down, her first-time finish was just a fraction wide of the right-hand post.
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Reds captain Alex Greenwood forced the Royals to defend again when her stirring run down the left eventually led to Lizzie Arnot, last Sunday's scorer against Liverpool, turning creator with a cross from the right that Sigsworth headed straight at Grace Maloney.
At the other end, Kirsty Hanson had the unwanted distinction of hitting the woodwork twice for United in a matter of seconds, after Greenwood whipped in a wondrous left-wing cross from Zelem's short corner. Firstly, Hanson headed against the angle of post and bar and when the ball dropped to her for a second time, the Scot lofted a shot onto the crossbar.
It was Hanson's attempt to surge forward on the left flank that brought the first booking of the game, with referee Anthony Tankard punishing Reading defender Molly Bartrip after she combined with Kirsty Pearce to bring down United's lively no.18.
That was perhaps a symptom of the step-up from the visitors, with left-back Natasha Harding then firing in a warning shot that Chamberlain did well to beat away at her near post.
The increasing pressure then paid off for the Royals when Brooke Chaplen used her strength on the ball to set up Davison for another effort saved by the United goalkeeper, before burying the rebound herself to make it 1-0.
Bartrip's second booking, for scything down Hanson when the Royals strived to clear their lines from Greenwood's free-kick, reduced her side to 10 players. Her captain Pearce, who might have been booked instead of Bartrip in the first half, was then cautioned for dissent.
Sensing an opportunity for their side to get back on level terms, the home fans sitting in the healthy crowd at Leigh found their voices and tried to inspire Stoney's side.
A sublime piece of skill from Zelem had some of the 4,835 supporters off their seats when she turned brilliantly between two opponents and left Williams floundering on the floor, although her resulting shot was only curled into Maloney's comfortable grasp.
However, Maloney kept her clean sheet intact and when the Reds bravely threw every player forward for a final corner deep into injury time, the ball broke for Davison to run into the United half and eventually slot in a killer second goal against the run of play.
It was a disappointing end to the contest for United but Stoney and her squad can still go into the international break with pride and plenty to build on after just seven weeks of working together.
NEXT HOME MATCH
After playing against Aston Villa away on Sunday 9 September, Manchester United Women’s next home match is against Sheffield United in the league on Thursday 20 September, kick-off 19:00 BST. Match tickets are on sale at www.manutd.com/womenstickets and priced at £5 (£2.50 for U16s/65+).