Manchester United will end the year four points clear of Arsenal at the top of the Barclays FA Women’s Super League after a comfortable victory over bottom side Bristol City at the Leigh Sports Village.
The Vixens welcomed back Australian international Chloe Logarzo after she sustained a facial injury against Tottenham Hotspur. Logarzo played the game wearing protection.
United dominated possession and territory but the Westcountry side were not without chances on the break with Ebony Salmon’s pace a sporadic threat to the home side’s back line. Another Vixens youngster, Sophie Baggaley also pulled off some superb saves which prevented the score line from being even worse for her side.
Indeed, it was the talented Ebony Salmon who had the first real opportunity of the game after three minutes. The former United player was played through by a long ball and got past Amy Turner before lifting a shot over the onrushing Mary Earps, but it was just over the bar.
United responded instantly and lovely build-up play between Tobin Heath and Jackie Groenen saw Jemma Purfield forced into conceding a corner. From Heath’s resulting ball in, Millie Turner’s effort was well saved by Baggaley.
Three minutes later, the Red Devils forced another corner and Millie Turner found Groenen who forced Baggaley into making another good save.
Manchester United were comfortable in possession, particularly down the right, with the Vixens seemingly content to soak up pressure and hit out on the break, with Salmon again involved in winning a corner.
With twelve minutes gone, Baggaley was called upon again to save her side as Katie Zelem’s ball through to Ona Batlle resulted in the Spaniard crashing in an effort which the Derbyshire born custodian held. Seconds later, Millie Turner fired in a curling effort which went just wide.
Salmon had another opportunity for City just after the quarter of an hour mark when a rare error from Zelem resulted in a long ball through to the visitors’ star, but her first touch wasn’t quite up to scratch and Earps repelled the danger.
It only seemed a matter of time though before United’s dominance resulted in a goal, but there was more frustration when Tobin Heath’s stunning drive from outside the area skimmed the left-hand edge of the crossbar.
However, the home side had better luck on twenty-six minutes as Zelem fed Ella Toone. Her pass played in Leah Galton who got past Flo Allen before firing in a glorious long-range effort from outside the box which rocketed into the net.
Four minutes later, Baggaley had to save well to stop Casey Stoney’s charges from doubling their advantage. Batlle’s through ball deflected off of Vixens defender Laura Rafferty into the path of Heath but the visiting goalkeeper did her job well.
The pressure mounted further as Heath released Toone, but her effort was deflected out for a corner by Aimee Palmer.
As the first half entered stoppage time, Vixens’ Jemma Purfield was sold a dummy by Ona Batlle, but the Bristol City defender recovered well to put in a great tackle at the cost of conceding a corner. Zelem’s flag kick went to the far post where Millie Turner nodded home the second goal, which is how things remained at the break.
The second half began with United in control – but again, the first opportunity went the way of the Vixens and Ebony Salmon, but Mary Earps was alive to the danger.
Seven minutes into the second stanza, the Red Devils made the game safe with their third. Jess Sigsworth claimed she was fouled in the box from a corner, but got up off the turf to turn and smash home a loose ball.
The pressure on Bristol City was turned up further, and it was no surprise when a fourth was added. A magnificent long ball towards the left found Leah Galton on the edge of the box and she crashed home a glorious shot from an acute angle just past the hour mark.
To the Vixens great credit, they never gave up, and two minutes later had a chance when Charlie Wellings ran up the right and put in a cross-shot which rebounded off of the post for a goal kick.
Indeed that Westcountry strength of character was further emphasised on seventy-two minutes when a long through ball found Ebony Salmon. Her searing pace saw her through the high line of United’s defence before putting in a first time effort which cannoned back off of Earps’ midriff. It rebounded to Salmon who composed herself and unleashed a fine drive into the net.
Yet this goal for the visitors just seemed to rouse United – and Tobin Heath specifically – to greater endeavours.
With seven minutes left, Flo Allen gave the ball away to Heath who looked up and saw Sophie Baggaley off of her line. The American superstar looped a glorious first-time effort over the Vixens keeper and into the net.
Ella Toone saw an effort curl narrowly wide of the right-hand post shortly afterwards.
It was Heath who had the final say in the aftermath as she received the ball from Hayley Ladd to ease the ball home.
Manchester United were impressive against opposition with limited ambition in the game and deserve to finish 2020 on top of the Barclays FA Women’s Super League table.
There was an inevitability about this result, but Bristol City’s fate will be determined by their results against those around them in the table after Christmas.
Manchester United: Earps, Batlle, Smith, M. Turner, A. Turner, Groenen, Zelem, Heath, Sigsworth, Galton, Toone. Substitutes: Harris, Okvist, McManus, Ladd, Fuso, Hanson, Ross, Bentley, Press
Bristol City: Baggaley, Rafferty, Allen, Evans, Purfield, Logarzo, Humphrey, Daniels, Palmer, Salmon, Wellings. Substitutes: Bryson, Haaland, Bissell, Collis, Wilson, Mastrantonio, Jones
Referee: Lisa Benn