It was a game of two halves that took place at a baking Solihull Moors on Sunday afternoon.
United by their standards, weren’t at the races in the first 45. Despite taking an early lead through Jane Ross, they were slow on the ball and sloppy in defensive areas. Meanwhile, Carla Ward’s side showed plenty of fight and resilience to bring themselves back into the game. Claudia Walker posed a threat up front on the break and Sarah Mayling caught the eye with her strong runs down the flank and pinpoint crossing. It was these two that put the hosts into the lead before a non-free kick, awarded right on the stroke of half-time, saw a trademark curler from Katie Zelem find the top corner.
Casey Stoney would have been frustrated at the break and a combination of a strong team talk and three substitutions altered the course of the match. Off went Ross, Zelem and Abbie McManus to be replaced by Amy Turner, Hayley Ladd and Alessia Russo for her debut.
We came in at half time and we were saying it’s not good enough. We need to keep the ball better and to play to our strengths, which was using the width and our midfield and moving the ball quicker. I think we did that and we got some more goals.
KIRSTY HANSON, MANCHESTER UNITED
The flow of the game immediately changed as Ella Toone put the visitors ahead within minutes of the restart. Birmingham battled but couldn’t respond and defensive frailties led to the extended scoreline. Kirsty Hanson hit two from unmarked positions to ensure the win for her side.
Player of the Match
Kirsty Hanson: Hanson had a superb performance for Manchester United down the right side. Her attacking play caused multiple problems throughout, putting a series of dangerous crosses into the area. In the second half, it was her set up that led to Toone’s goal. And she bagged two goals of her own to cap off her display. A good day’s work for the young Scottish forward.
I was really pleased for Kirsty. She struggled a bit in the game against Chelsea and we had discussions with her about our belief in her and what we think she can bring to the game. She was excellent today.
CASEY STONEY, MANCHESTER UNITED MANAGER
Moment of the Match
Ella Toone’s strike: Within a minute or so of the restart, this well-worked team goal saw Manchester United go ahead. It would have been exactly the response Stoney wanted after a poor first period and set the tone for the rest of the game.
A sweeping move was started by a lovely cross-field ball from Jackie Groenen. She found Hanson bursting down the right. She delivered a pinpoint ball to Toone who was placed betweeen the two central defenders. Her deft first-time finish gave Hannah Hampton no chance in the Birmingham goal.
- Birmingham’s defensive weaknesses: The Blues have strengthened in this department but arguably four of United’s five goals came from hesitation and errors in defensive areas. Instead of clearing their lines, they looked to play the ball along the ground, losing possession and inviting waves of pressure from United’s forward line. The final goal will be particularly frustrating for Carla Ward with both Rachel Corsie and Georgia Brougham making avoidable errors to allow Hanson in for her second.
- United’s power off the bench: The difference with United this season is the resources that they have amongst the substitutes. It gives Casey Stoney plenty of options when things aren’t going her way. At half-time, she was able to bring on two experienced defensive players in Ladd and Amy Turner to provide more solidity, as well as hand a debut to Russo up front. With the addition of Christen Press and Tobin Heath in the coming weeks, the competition for places will only increase and provide United with the firepower they need to try and challenge the top three.
- Sarah Mayling’s performance: Despite the scoreline, there will have been several positives for Carla Ward to take from her side’s performance. The fight they showed in the first half will have given her encouragement, as would the performance of Mayling. Her pace caused trouble for United’s defence throughout and she deserved more clinical finishing on the end of the crosses she produced. One to watch this season, that’s for sure.
- Alessia Russo’s debut: Russo’s first 45 minutes for her new club showed exactly why they bought her in. Her pace and directness leading the line gave the game new energy as she provided a continuous outlet going forward. With a long-term contract and huge potential, she might just prove the most impactful signing United have made in this transfer window.
- Referee standards: You can’t have a WSL game without talking about the referees. The decision to award United a free kick on the edge of the D against Mollie Green, who clearly got the ball, was a poor one that ultimately helped change the game. With the final kick of the first half, Zelem was able to restore parity and sent Birmingham in at the break with a different team talk ahead. It just isn’t good enough for the standard of football on show.
Quote of the Day
We have to learn very quickly that it doesn’t matter where we go, who we play, we have to turn up ready to start the game. We have to execute the game plan, we have to recognise what the opposition are giving us and we have to play to our strengths.
CASEY STONEY, MANCHESTER UNITED MANAGER