Casey Stoney’s Manchester United earned the reward for a determined second half performance led by Kirsty Hanson which saw the unbeaten Reds turn around a two goal deficit.
The Red Devils came into the game on the back of an outstanding performance in dispatching Arsenal last weekend far more comfortably than the 1-0 scoreline suggested. City have had an up and down season, winning the delayed FA Cup Final, but have come up short in terms of results more often than they would have expected.
An open start at the Leigh Sports Village saw Tobin Heath create an early attacking move for the hosts with Jess Sigsworth prominent before Georgia Stanway hit the side netting shortly afterwards with City’s first attempt after a move down their left.
With five minutes on the clock, Heath was again at the heart of the battle. Lucy Bronze hung back from putting in a challenge allowing the American to play a ball through to Ella Toone whose effort went just wide of the right hand post.
However, just three minutes later, it was City who took the lead. Mary Earps stayed on her line for a corner, Chloe Kelly’s attempt to hook the ball back towards the goal failed as did United’s attempts to clear the danger and a gentle poke across the box from Steph Houghton found Kelly again to turn the ball round the corner and grab the opener.
Within sixty seconds, Stanway played a 1-2 with Sam Mewis and hit a shot which went far too close for comfort from United’s perspective.
City were now dominant, forcing corners and making it making it tough for United to be seen as an attacking force. Half way through the half, a vicious in-swinger of a corner from Alex Greenwood found Mewis’ head, but her effort went over.
Casey Stoney’s charges needed a sustained spell of possession to stem the City flow and lay the foundations for a comeback. Yet, throughout the remainder of the opening half, it never quite materialised. United’s consistent high press gave them so much joy against Arsenal last week. City were able to play their way out of the attempted straightjacket and as a consequence they earned so much space in the midfield to exploit. That and the total dominance that Georgia Stanway held over Ona Batlle down the left to create so much of City’s offensive play meant that the home side were on the back foot throughout the opening period.
Just on the half hour mark, Laura Coombs was afforded acres of space in the midfield and found Stanway, but the City star took one touch too many which allowed Mary Earps to block the danger at some physical cost to the United keeper as a result.
With twelve minutes of the half remaining, Christen Press robbed Houghton and got in a great cross, but no-one could quite get on the end of it.
Another teasing Greenwood corner missed everyone before coming to Houghton on the back post but the Lionesses skipper couldn’t quite get the right touch on it.
In stoppage time, Coombs added a brilliant second. Mewis collected the ball outside the box and hit an effort which was blocked by Amy Turner, only to fall straight to Coombs who rifled a shot past Earps first time.
At the break, Casey Stoney brought on Kirsty Hanson for Jess Sigsworth, and within five minutes the influence of the substitution was felt. Hanson beat a City player to earn a throw and then a corner. Tobin Heath sent the ball in and Ella Toone hit an effort from the edge of the ‘D’ which was deflected for the first of two further corners.
Shortly afterwards, City’s Lucy Bronze played a careless ball back towards her own box which was gobbled up by Tobin Heath who fired home a glorious shot and the home side were right back in it.
On the hour mark, Ellen White had a great effort to re-establish the Sky Blues’ two goal cushion when she was played in by Bronze, but her effort ballooned over the bar.
Nine minutes later, Chloe Kelly beat Millie Turner along the right which allowed her to play in a great cross, only for Georgia Stanway to miss the target.
As the game approached its final quarter of an hour, Kirsty Hanson again showed her worth. It was the substitute’s run down the right wing which won a corner from Alex Greenwood. Leah Galton’s flag kick led to a shot from Millie Turner which effort off of Sam Mewis and out for a corner.
Hanson’s influence reached its zenith on seventy four minutes when, from a corner, she fired in a shot which was brilliantly blocked at point blank range by Ellie Roebuck. The rebound came back to Hanson and the Scottish international could not miss and the scores were level.
Into the final minute United could have won it when Leah Galton’s corner was met by Lucy Stanforth’s header, only for Demi Stokes to clear off of the line.
City’s three wins from their opening eight FAWSL games remains a concern with them now potentially six points from top spot by the end of the weekend. Allowing such a stranglehold on the game to be loosened is not something that will make the pressure on Gareth Taylor go away any time soon.
United remain unbeaten and having picked up five points from their home games against the trio of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City suggests that they could be ready to break into that top three themselves this season.
Manchester United: Earps, Batlle, A. Turner, M. Turner, Galton, Ladd, Groenen, Sigsworth, Toone, Heath, Press. Substitutes: Ramsey (GK), Okvist, Staniforth, Zelem, James, Hanson, Ross.
Scorers: Heath 54, Hanson 74.
Manchester City: Roebuck, Bronze, Houghton, Stokes, Greenwood, Mewis, Walsh, Coombs, Kelly, White, Stanway. Substitutes: Bardsley (GK), Bonner, Scott, Beckie, Morgan, Park, Weir, Lavelle.
Scorers: Kelly 9, Coombs 45+1
Referee: Amy Fearns.