Caroline Weir was on the scoresheet for the fourth time against Manchester United as Manchester City withstood a plucky first half from the home team to progress to the FA Cup quarter-finals with a 4-1 away win.
The City manager, Gareth Taylor, praised the “statement” of his team in the second half, after Katie Zelem gave United a first-half lead. Taylor’s half-time substitutions swung the momentum of the increasingly feisty tie, and goals in the second half from Lauren Hemp, Ellen White, Weir, and Khadija Shaw sealed the win.
“No doubt we have to go through these awful experiences to grow and learn,” said the United manager, Marc Skinner. “They’ve [City] had a lot of time in doing what they do and so have Chelsea and so have Arsenal. So for us it’s about using this experience but never forgetting what it feels like after this game. Never forget what it feels like for our fans, never forget what it feels like for our players, who are Manchester United fans.”
In City’s 1-0 defeat of United at a sold-out Academy Stadium in the Women’s Super League on 13 February United had stuttered. The rhythm that Skinner’s side had found in the new year and the swaggering attacking movement was gone. Instead, it was City who nipped at the heels of the visiting team, their experience in high-pressure games, contrasting starkly with the rabbit-in-the-headlights hesitancy of the four-year-old refounded United, carrying them through a fixture that could have all but ended their hopes of Champions League football.
Skinner was left bemoaning his side’s lack of aggression after that game and frustrations were similar post-match in Leigh.
“I’m really disappointed in our one-v-one duels, we have to be more aggressive,” he said. “Sometimes we can oversimplify football but I didn’t think we were physical enough in the second half. It wasn’t about how we play – you have to win your duels.”
The manager got the aggression from his players he was asking for ahead of the tie in the first half. In the sun at Leigh Sports Village United were the disruptors, harrying, pressing and playing with a dynamism up top.
In the 14th minute they were rewarded for their efforts, as Zelem’s corner looped in at the far post, with the City goalkeeper, Ellie Roebuck, nowhere near it.
Perturbed by the United pressure, Taylor took off Vicky Losada and Jess Park for the Australian Hayley Raso and Scotland’s Weir at the break. The impact was instant with Weir, who scored in each of their past three home matches against Manchester United, meeting a cross at the back post that was gathered by the United goalkeeper, Mary Earps.
It was Raso, though, who helped City draw level five minutes after the break, with her clipped cross from the right towards White miskicked by the forward into the path of Hemp, who placed the ball coolly beyond Earps.
As in the preceding meeting of these two teams, with the pressure on, City flourished while United wilted. Nine minutes later the visiting team took the lead with the United full-back Hannah Blundell at fault, heading the ball straight into the run of White, who was wearing yellow tape around her captain’s armband to make it look like the flag of Ukraine. White calmly rounded ears and slotted home.
“It’s something that I noticed as the game was going on,” Taylor said of the bracelet. “Obviously we support the girls, it’s linked to what’s going on overseas and we’re really sensitive to that, it’s really devastating what’s going on at the moment and it’s our girls being humble and normal to want to support that in the best way they can.”
Delivering the sucker punch two minutes later was a familiar face. A diagonal ball over the top to Hemp was cut back to Weir, who scored the winner two weeks ago, and the forward squeezed the ball between the post and Earps, who should have done better.
Shaw added a fourth with her first touch and again Earps was partly to blame, parrying Hemp’s shot straight into the path of the Jamaican forward who smashed the ball into the roof of the net from two yards out.