United Women 3 Aston Villa Women 0
Manchester United returned to winning ways in the Women’s Super League with a dominant 3-0 victory over Aston Villa.
Goals from Kirsty Hanson, Jessica Sigsworth and Katie Zelem secured the points for the Reds at Leigh Sports Village, strengthening our position in the race for Champions League football.
There were few signs of any rustiness from United who were in competitive action for the first time in over three weeks following the international break, putting in a strong performance ahead of our crucial clash with rivals in the European race Arsenal up next.
From the get-go the Reds controlled the play and dominated possession which the visitors struggled to disrupt, finding themselves frequently pinned back in their own defensive third. However, by sitting in deep Villa limited United’s early chances to set-plays, including a Hanson header that Lisa Weiss had to clear off the line in the Villains' goal.
The breakthrough came after 27 minutes when Staniforth forced a mistake from Chloe Arthur, with the Villa midfielder playing a loose pass under pressure which Hanson latched on to just outside the penalty area. She unleashed an effort on goal which deflected off the shin of defender Natalie Haigh and looped out of reach of Weiss into the top corner.
Going ahead only spurred Casey Stoney’s side on further, with a number of chances quickly following the goal. First, Sigsworth was denied at close range, although it wouldn’t have counted as the flag was raised for offside, then another effort from distance was deflected as Staniforth took on the shot, but this time the keeper was able to deal with it.
There was some concern for goalscorer Hanson when Elisha N’Dow accidentally caught her on the back of the head with a foot after going down under a challenge, but thankfully following an assessment she was able to continue without issue.
A second goal came just before the interval with Staniforth once again involved, after Jackie Groenen was brought to ground by a heavy Jodie Hutton tackle. Stepping up to take the resulting free-kick from the right-flank, Staniforth expertly curled the ball into the area where Sigsworth met it with a powerful header that was only ever finding the back of the net.
A double change at half-time for Villa saw Emma Follis and Nadine Hanssen on in place of Shania Hayles and Natalie Haigh in bid to turn the tide, but although the game opened up more in the second 45, it was still the Reds who were on top.
United might have strengthened their lead earlier had Ella Toone’s side-footed effort found the target as she tried to convert Sigsworth’s ball in following a quick break. Then a Hanson corner hung in the air on its way to the back post, before coming off the bar. Staniforth followed up on the rebound but her curling effort was headed away from danger.
With 18 minutes to go a third goal did come as the Reds made the pressure pay. Second-half substitute Hayley Ladd had time and space in the area to play the ball in, with Zelem one of three red shirts waiting to meet it in the six-yard box; with ease Zelem steered the ball home.
It was a quiet afternoon for United stopper Mary Earps, who topped off her 28th birthday with a clean sheet as the Aston Villa attack failed to create any chances of note. Meanwhile, it was a special afternoon for 17-year-old Carrie Jones, who came on for her first-team debut in the closing stages.
Another sub in the form of Ivana Fuso shot wide for the Reds in stoppage time as we kept the onslaught going right until the final whistle and finished off a thoroughly professional performance.
United: Earps; Battle, M. Turner, A Turner (Thorisdottir 79), Harris; Zelem (c), Groenen (Ross 79); Hanson, Staniforth (Ladd 63), Toone (Fuso 62); Sigswoth (Jones 88).
Subs not used: Bentley, Bourne.
Goals: Hanson 27, Sigsworth 42, Zelem 72
Villa: Weiss; Hutton, Asante, Haigh (Hanssen 45), N’Dow (Siems 72), Ale; Arthur (Syme 84), Ewers (c), Hayles (Follis 45); Iwabuchi, Larsen.
Subs not used: Rogers, McLoughlin, Gregory, Silva.
Referee: Helen Conley