The Women’s Super League title race will go to the final day of the season after an injury-time winner from Lucía García gave Manchester United victory against their rivals Manchester City.
United needed to win to keep their hopes alive after Chelsea had defeated Arsenal earlier on Sunday but it looked like they would fall short, despite playing more than half the match against 10 players after the goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck was dismissed, until the substitute García created bedlam in Leigh.
There was a record attendance for a United women’s match at Leigh and the raucous home fans had plenty to cheer about within two minutes; City failed to clear the ball properly twice, allowing it to land at Hayley Ladd’s feet 20 yards from goal from where she picked her spot in the top corner to beat an unmoved Roebuck.
City were barely in the match in the opening stages; before five minutes had elapsed United could have scored three times. City were unable to cope with United’s energy as they desperately tried to rid themselves of the memory of defeat at Wembley last weekend, while keen to take the title race to the final day.
United targeted Yui Hasegawa in the City midfield, permitting her no time in possession. The Japan international is the person who gets City going with her quick passing and energy but she was hounded whenever the ball went near her, putting Hasegawa and City on the back foot unable to play through United as is their desire.
Considering City had a Champions League spot to play for and the chance to end the title challenge of their main rivals, they looked naive. They allowed United to keep possession with ease, switched off for short corners and aimed clearances to no one, meaning the ball came straight back at them. With this result City’s Champions League chances have not evaporated, but on the final day they will need an 11-goal swing on goal difference.
It took 20 minutes for the match to turn into a contest. In quick succession, Khadija Shaw had a goalbound shot from eight yards blocked and Chloe Kelly assaulted the post with a volley. This brought new-found confidence to City, who turned the United defence questions to answers but they stoically held their own.
The England head coach, Sarina Wiegman, was in the stands, eager to see who is in form going into the World Cup this summer but equally to ensure no more of her potential call-ups are injured.
Nikita Parris will be hoping her performance put her into Wiegman’s thoughts for the tournament. The winger was a constant danger against Leila Ouahabi, who struggled to deal with her pace and movement. City were reduced to 10 players when she ran through to be confronted by a sliding Roebuck but the goalkeeper completely mistimed her challenge outside the box and was immediately sent off, forcing Gareth Taylor to bring on the 18-year-old Khiara Keating on the stroke of half-time. It was an unnecessary foul to make and a dreadful decision from Roebuck that will not have impressed David de Gea in the stands.
An entire second half being a player light looked a difficult ask for City but they were at their finest to threaten United. Their style became more direct, aiming to get the ball to Shaw and for her to hold it up in the hope of bringing teammates in play or using her physicality to earn free-kicks in dangerous positions. One such set-piece almost brought the equaliser when the former United player Alex Greenwood whipped in a cross from the left, allowing Kelly to flick it goalwards but the bar rescued United.
United were almost out of sight when Alessia Russo broke down the right and fired across for Leah Galton but the outstretched leg of the United winger was not long enough to slide the ball home. City were becoming increasingly stretched, tired by the work they were being made to do under the Leigh sunshine.
The United pain was doubled when City secured a surprise equaliser through Filippa Angeldahl. The City midfielder retrieved a cleared corner and crossed it back into the box from close to the byline, only to see it deceive Mary Earps and land inside the far post. It would have been a tragicomedy end to United’s title challenge but Earps was spared.
United had to wait until injury-time for their saviour to come to the fore when García made no mistake on this occasion inside the box, sweeping a knockdown into the corner, although it took a deflection, eventually trickling into the corner before the crowd erupted.
All United need to do now is beat Liverpool away and hope Chelsea slip up against the bottom club Reading. Easy.