The FA Cup returned to the Academy Stadium on Saturday afternoon as Manchester City swept past Aston Villa and into the 5th Round. It was nothing short of dominant from the hosts – professional, clinical and slick in attack.
Unlike Emma Hayes on Friday or Marcus Bignot, his opposite number, Gareth Taylor opted to field a strong XI that included the likes of Ellen White, Lucy Bronze, Keira Walsh, Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly. His ambition was obvious from the outset, choosing to give his players minutes over rest: “If we had rested players today, they wouldn’t have rested; they would have trained. So, I think it’s great to have a game like this in the FA Cup against Villa… Everybody wants to play, which is the main thing; everybody wants to be there; and everybody’s really contributed.”
The story couldn’t have been more different for Aston Villa, with many of their senior players on the bench or left at home. As Bignot stated post match, the priority is Barclays FAWSL survival over this year’s FA Cup: “Unfortunately, we had to sacrifice today in terms of our survival moving forward. So, we’ve left a lot of starters at home today, given an opportunity for some much needed minutes for finishers recently.” Youngsters Olivia McLoughlin and Freya Gregory, 16 and 18 years old respectively, both lined up, while Emily Syme was handed a rare start in the midfield.
From the first whistle, the hosts were in control, with every player bar Ellie Roebuck camped out in the Aston Villa half. Wave after wave of attack arrived as they peppered the Villa backline, who initially held strong. Sian Rogers was brave and alert in goal, staying big to deny Hemp at close range.
City were particularly productive down the right, with the combination of Bronze and Kelly proving a handful. The latter, in particular, appeared to be having plenty of fun, time and time again dancing past players as if they were mannequins. She got her reward in the 16th minute with an acrobatic finish that will be well worth watching on repeat.
This kickstarted a chain of events that saw the hosts add two more goals before the break and five after it. Marauding forward, Hemp set up White at the near post before a fine angled finish saw Kelly grab her second.
I thought it was a very professional performance. I thought we controlled the game really well; some of our play and some of our goals we scored were exceptional. What I really liked was two things – that we didn’t take liberties in this game, even when we were in the ascendancy; and secondly, was the substitutions, which I’ve said many times this season, didn’t alter the level of performance.
They were so comfortable that Taylor chose to hook Bronze and Hemp at half time, the former finding her way back to full fitness, for Georgia Stanway and Janine Beckie. They were both to get on the scoresheet. Beckie with a cross that dipped over Rogers to nestle in the back of the net, an effort that even took her by surprise, before Stanway ran onto a well-worked Caroline Weir free kick for City’s fifth.
The changes continued with the introduction of Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle to add to the firepower. Lavelle was at her clinical best to convert Beckie’s cut back from inside the box before Kelly deservedly secured her third, a stand-out performance from the young England forward: “It was a great feeling to get my first hat-trick with this club and put us into the next round. I feel like we just were really flowing in this game. It was great to start on the front foot and not really take our foot off the gas because we’re looking to improve every game and just be fluid in our movement.”
Aston Villa made changes themselves, offering more of a threat going forward. They were unlucky not to pull at least one back, with Asmita Ale forcing Roebuck into a good close-range stop before Nadine Hanssen hit the bar.
But as they had all afternoon, City were just too slick on the counter. They broke at pace and Mewis was there to add the icing on the cake. A perfect afternoon of preparation for Manchester City ahead of their title-challenging Barclays FAWSL tie against Chelsea in mid-week.