Marc Skinner’s Manchester United managed to overcome Durham on penalties in the group stages of the Conti Cup, after the sides finished level on 2-2 after 90 minutes.
It was a game which ideally shouldn’t have gone to the lucky draw of the penalty shootouts but the Red Devils came up with a perfect performance from the spot to pick up all three points in their League Cup opener.
Skinner opted to change the double pivot completely, as Hayley Ladd and Vilde Risa started in central midfield. Lucy Staniforth returned to the starting line-up, after having been on the bench against Manchester City but she started in the number ten role behind Alessia Russo.
Young Ivana Fuso started on the left, while teenager Carrie Jones started on the right in a reshuffled eleven. Despite rumours suggesting that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s daughter Karna could feature, the striker wasn’t on the bench for the game in Durham.
Durham were happy to deny United any space to work with in the final third and relied on being direct and physical in the box. It only helped them create brief openings in the first half and while United were far from extremely penetrative, Fuso tapped home an opener in the 35th minute.
The goal came as a result of United stretching a packed Durham backline on the right with both Russo and Staniforth combining before the former set up the Brazilian.
Early in the second half, Durham created a brief opening to only earn a corner before United fan Dee Bradley headed into the corner from the set-piece. It was a goal out of nothing and it was something that United should have defended.
With Durham receding deeper, United needed something special to break them down. And minutes after coming on from the bench, Ella Toone hit a blazing shot from 25 yards out to take Skinner’s girls ahead once again.
In another unexpected twist, Beth Hepple’s impressive free-kick from the edge of the box beat United keeper Sophie Baggaley to make it 2-2.
That wasn’t where the drama ended though as three minutes into the six minutes of added time, Russo missed an almost open goal chance. Durham had failed to clear a long ball from the back, allowing Russo to pounce and go past the keeper. But the 22-year-old slipped and fluffed the shot.
It was Russo herself who stroked home the winning penalty for the Red Devils though, as United scored all five of their pens. Becky Salicki missed Durham’s fourth penalty, costing her side dearly.
United are second in the Conti Cup table behind rivals Man City, who are at the top courtesy of their 5-1 win over Everton.