Bridgwater United 0 Manchester United Women 2
Manchester United Women produced a professional performance to reach the fifth round of the Vitality Women's FA Cup on Sunday afternoon, beating Bridgwater United 2-0 at a tight non-league ground, thanks to an own goal by Charlotte Buxton and a strike from Ella Toone.
The head coach made only four changes from last Sunday's top-four WSL clash with Tottenham Hotspur, bringing in Hannah Blundell at the back, Carrie Jones and Ivana Ferreira Fuso in midfield and Martha Thomas in attack. Meanwhile, the bench boasted numerous internationals and it would transpire that several of them would be needed to eventually see off the underdogs.
The Reds can now look forward to the fifth-round draw, which takes place this Monday evening, 31 January, at 19:30 GMT.
The Reds were camped in Bridgwater's half at Fairfax Park during the first half and deservedly went ahead when Ladd's close-range finish was diverted in off defender Buxton in the 17th minute, following a low cross in from the right.
Martha Thomas was denied several times by the hosts' busy and capable goalkeeper Beth Howard, while Ella Toone also went close to doubling the lead before the break.
The best of Howard's saves came when Toone played the ball over the top and Thomas stretched to make a good connection, only for the Robins' stopper to dive to her right and tip the effort away.
The majority of fans in the sell-out 2,500 crowd had their most exciting moment when Ellie Strippel fired a direct free-kick wide in injury time.
Howard's first save after the break kept Toone temporarily off the scoresheet as the Reds' search for a second goal continued, while Earps had an easy catch under her crossbar at the other end when Bridgwater spurned a rare opportunity by firing a free-kick straight down the middle. The heavy pitch was hardly conducive to set-piece accuracy and even the visitors' captain Katie Zelem found it hard to deliver dead balls with her usual precision.
In a bid to break Bridgwater's second-half resistance, and to rest players for Wednesday's Continental Cup semi-final at Chelsea, Skinner made a triple substitution on the hour mark. Martha Harris replaced Blundell at right-back, while Vilde Boe Risa and Jackie Groenen freshened up the midfield as Zelem and Jones made way.
Toone belied the bobbly surface to keep the ball at her feet when she weaved into the box from the left-hand side, 20 minutes from time, but Howard was equal to her rasping drive. In the very next attack, the same players squared up as Toone was played through the middle and again the Bridgwater keeper won their duel, coming off her line to smother the danger.
The Reds' fourth substitution brought Alessia Russo, our recent match winner away to Arsenal in the Conti Cup, into the fray as Thomas went off and the change soon paid dividends.
With Bridgwater's overworked defenders and midfielders beginning to tire, Russo exploited the space afforded to her and when she drilled the ball across field to Toone on the left-hand edge of the area, the no.7 cut inside and finally beat the stubborn barrier of Howard by arrowing a low shot in off the right-hand post.
In a footnote of interest, the Reds' fifth sub, replacing Ferreira Fuso, was Karna Solskjaer. The young Norwegian made her debut and no doubt made her parents, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his wife Silje, very proud as they sat among the fans in Somerset's winter sunshine.
Howard made one more stunning stop, to push over Toone's brilliant attempt in injury time, but it might have been harsh on the hosts had they conceded a third goal on their big day.
Bridgwater: Howard, Llewellyn, Goddard, Huntley (Bell 71), Buxton, Burridge, Jackson (Dudley-Jones 62), Strippel (Markham 50), Gilroy (Turner 62), Wilson-White, Holden (Potts 62).
Subs not used: Asker, Read, Hinchcliffe, Kendell.
United: Earps; Blundell (Harris 60), Thorisdottir, Mannion, Smith; Jones (Groenen 60), Zelem (c) (Boe Risa 60), Ladd; Toone, Thomas (Russo 75), F. Fuso (Solskjaer 88).
Subs not used: Baggaley, Batlle, Caldwell, Galton.
Goals: Buxton own goal 17, Toone 81.