Leading 2-1 against 10 players with 11 minutes left – will Manchester United ever get a better opportunity to get one over on their local rivals?
United’s chance to beat Manchester City for the first time since their promotion to the Women’s Super League slipped from their grasp in a dramatic 2-2 draw at Leigh Sports Village.
City, coming into the game off the back of their longest-ever losing run in the WSL, produced a late Ellen White equaliser and United boss Marc Skinner was forced to settle for a point in his first derby in charge.
It was also a moment, in front of a national audience on BBC One, for Skinner’s side to lay down a marker with victory over one of the league’s superpowers.
He had played down suggestions United were favourites in the build-up, but admitted there was a “tinge of disappointment” they could not capitalise on a wounded City when 2-1 up at home.
“I think it’s a missed opportunity in terms of getting three points, but it’s a step forward in terms of mentality and experience together,” said Skinner.
“If you are in a winning part of any game you want to go on and win it, of course. But I must continue to stress that the way our team are growing together and what we’re trying to do, I’m seeing steps and strides every single game.
“To come back – regardless of how many players they had – you still have to unlock a deep block and we did that twice.
“We put ourselves in that position and got the opportunity, so that’s definitely the lens we want to look at.”
‘Taylor will be the happier manager’
United were only reformed as a women’s team in 2018, but early investment and swift progression up the domestic ranks meant they came close to challenging for a Champions League spot last season.
And despite the departure of former manager Casey Stoney, there is expectation from fans that United would look to close the gap on the WSL’s established top three – Chelsea, City and Arsenal – this season.
A 6-1 thrashing by Chelsea was a huge disappointment in United’s sole defeat this season, but their failure to capitalise on a weakened City side in this first derby of the campaign is another blow.
Former Leicester City and England striker Emile Heskey told BBC One that United failed to “step it up” against City.
“Having got in front, they will be disappointed they did not take all three points,” he added. “You have to take your hat off to the City players, to galvanise and go again.”
The United fans, who were in strong voice throughout the match, were more subdued at full-time. It was in contrast to the travelling City supporters who sang and celebrated loudly with their players after battling back to earn a draw.
Skinner was keen to remain positive in his post-match media conference, pointing once again to the development of his side in a transitional period.
But former England midfielder Fara Williams said: “With the sending off and then going 2-1 behind… Coming away from the derby with a point – Taylor will certainly be most pleased.”
Can it be a turning point for City?
City were five places below United in the table before Saturday and had suffered a third successive league defeat when losing to West Ham last week.
Compounded by an injury crisis, last season’s runners-up were also knocked out of the Champions League in the qualifying stages earlier this season.
“The character we showed to come back and go 1-0 up and the fight and determination throughout the game was top drawer,” City’s player of the match Lauren Hemp told BBC Sport.
“I’m so proud of the team. Hopefully this will be the turning point. We’ve not really been on form the past few weeks – today we showed the quality we have.”
Manager Taylor also praised the resilience of his players, especially after they saw Georgia Stanway sent off for a reckless and high tackle on Leah Galton.
“The circumstances went against us, which is our own doing,” he added. “I wasn’t sure it was a red card at first when I saw it, but having seen it again you can see why the referee has made that decision.
“We showed great spirit. It’s not easy to take when you’re holding on and trying to see the game out. At one point it looked like we were going to do that.
“We looked fairly comfortable, then to go behind like we did and fight back was obviously fantastic. We need to use that and build on that. We know that we’re capable.”