A third meeting of season, with at least one more to come, and instead of creating derby fatigue it has served only to heighten the intensity of a growing rivalry between Manchester United and Manchester City.
“Emma Hayes [the Chelsea manager] said at the beginning of the season, ‘Enjoy the derby because they’re terrible games’ and I agree now, all three have been terrible,” said the City manager, Nick Cushing, after their defeat of United. “No structure, end to end, teams going for it. Maybe that’s what derbies are like, maybe there’s so much emotion and passion in a Manchester derby that it’s always going to be like that.”
Two Ellen White goals had given City a comfortable lead but the introduction of Lauren James swung the momentum United’s way, a superb solo goal launching their fightback. They were then left ruing the absence of goalline technology after Abbie McManus’s effort was adjudged to have not crossed the line before being pawed away by Ellie Roebuck. Jill Scott restored the two-goal cushion but a Lauren Hemp own goal led to a tense finale.
“We’ve got people up in the control room and we’ve got people up in the boxes, They said straight away it’s over, quite considerably over,” said Casey Stoney, United’s manager, who has been vocal about the need for goalline technology in the women’s game.
“I’ll be really honest, if it was over the line and it was our goal I’d be absolutely gutted,” said Cushing. “If you’ve scored a legitimate goal, it should be given but it is what it is.
There was bemusement at the start as the teamsheet had City’s Georgia Stanway, arguably the player most likely to succeed Fran Kirby at No 10 for England, seemingly positioned at right-back. Perhaps it is Cushing’s impending departure that made him go rogue and stick his creative forward at right-back, perhaps necessity or perhaps a tactical masterstroke.
It seemed to be the former. With no one quite as adept as Stanway at operating in tight areas up top, service to White was patchy with United closing off the spaces between their lines well.
There were similar problems for United. The 18-year-old James, sister of Chelsea’s Reece, who has the ability to create something from nothing at any moment, was relegated to the bench for the second game in a row. But it was James who launched United’s resurgence following White’s chip over Mary Earps and her flick from close range, cutting inside with the help of a backheel, to take herself away from Gemma Bonner and Demi Stokes, before lashing low past Roebuck at the near post.
With United furious at their chalked-off equaliser, City sucker-punched them, a floating shot from Scott catching Earps off guard. City saw out the victory despite the own goal and United’s late pressure.