Report: Brighton Women 1 United Women 0
Manchester United were condemned to a 1-0 defeat by Brighton & Hove Albion in the Women’s Super League on Sunday.
Jess Sigsworth came closest in the Reds’ pursuit of an equaliser, but the hosts held firm throughout the 90 minutes with Inessa Kaagman’s 25th-minute penalty the difference at The People’s Pension Stadium.
The result along with scores elsewhere means United drop down to fourth in the WSL table and out of the Champions League places on goal difference, with three league matches left to play.
Just over a week on from a historic afternoon at Old Trafford, the Reds were back on the road and entered the season’s final four WSL fixtures with a trip down to the south coast to face the Seagulls.
Casey Stoney made three changes from that outing in M16 with Martha Harris, Kirsty Hanson and Sigsworth coming into the side.
The head coach had asked for a robustness from her side in the week, something that was on show inside the opening five minutes as Maria Thorisdottir threw herself in front of Kayleigh Green’s effort, after the Brighton winger had cut inside from the left.
Chances were hard to come by in the first 20 minutes, as both teams looked to play their way into the game. The Reds came closest to unlocking the Seagulls defence when Jackie Groenen got to the byline on the right side of the box, before looping a dangerous ball across the goal that came to no reward.
With the sides matching each other in the middle of the park, the hosts made the most of a set-piece to get the opening goal.
Thorisdottir was penalised for a handball while defending a free-kick into the box from a deep area, with Inessa Kaagman stepping up to send Mary Earps the wrong way from the spot, putting the Seagulls ahead on 25 minutes.
Looking to immediately hit back, the Reds were nearly on level terms soon after via a set-piece of our own. After Katie Zelem’s corner from the right was sent back into the box by Ona Battle, the ball pinballed around within the crowd of players before falling at the feet of Millie Turner on the edge of the area who powered a first-time effort over the crossbar.
It was Turner at the centre of the action again as United went in search of the equaliser inside the opening seconds of first-half stoppage time. The Reds’ no.21 connected with substitute Lucy Staniforth’s free-kick from the right, nodding over at the back post.
In the final few ticks of the half, Brighton also went close and produced an alert stop from Earps. The United stopper got down well to her left to gather Rianna Jarrett’s low effort from outside the penalty area.
The Reds made a positive start to the second period and were denied the equaliser on multiple occasions in quick succession by the Seagulls.
Staniforth, who had been introduced in place of the injured Lauren James shortly before half-time, was the architect for the Reds’ first attack of the half. The midfielder found Ella Toone with a deep ball, the latter then combined well with Sigsworth before the United forward’s one-on-one effort was well-denied by Megan Walsh in the Brighton goal.
Seconds later, Zelem was twice denied with efforts from a central area on the edge of the penalty area. First, the skipper’s low effort was blocked by a defender before her chipped rebound was watched and collected by Walsh on her line.
With just over 20 minutes left to play, the captain led the Reds’ push for a way through, playing a neat one-two with Staniforth before the drilled strike that followed was blocked.
Encouragement from the touchline was audible as the Reds continued to push bodies forward in pursuit of a late leveller.
Jane Ross, who scored United’s third goal in the 3-0 win in October’s reverse fixture, was introduced from the bench but the hosts remained compact in their shape, frustrating the visiting Reds of clear-cut opportunities.
As the contest entered six minutes of stoppage time, Stoney’s side did find an opening when Zelem met Staniforth’s corner from the left, but the skipper’s header fell wide of the goal with what would be United’s final opportunity of the game, bringing an end to a disappointing afternoon on the south coast.
Next up for United following the international break will be Vitality Women’s FA Cup fourth-round action on Sunday 18 April, before a return to WSL action at home to Tottenham Hotspur seven days later.
Brighton: Walsh; Koivisto, Le Tissier, Williams (c) (Roe 53), Gibbons; Connolly, Kaagman (Bance 83); Green, Whelan, Brazil; Jarrett (Symonds 75).
Subs not used: Fiskerstrand, Startup, Heroum, Simpkins, Olding.
Goal: Kaagman 25
United: Earps; Harris, Thorisdottir, M.Turner, Battle; Groenen, Zelem (c); Hanson (A.Turner 90+2), Toone (Ross 68), James (Staniforth 38), Sigsworth.
Subs not used: Bentley, Bourne, Smith, Jones.
Referee: Abigail Byrne