There was certainly an extravagant atmosphere around the tie at The Theatre of Dreams, with over 20,000 fans present to witness the occasion amidst reduced ticket prices. While the game wasn’t completely smooth sailing early on, Skinner’s side managed to go past a plucky Everton on the day.
While United had deployed a makeshift back four in the disappointing draw against West Ham, Katie Zelem returned to the midfield against Everton. Hayley Ladd stepped into the backline beside Maria Thorisdottir, with Jackie Groenen keeping her place in midfield.
The front four remained the same, as Martha Thomas, Alessia Russo, Leah Galton and Ella Toone all started in the 4-2-3-1 shape.
Old Trafford was stunned into silence within the first five minutes, as the Toffees took the lead with their first attack of the game. Kenza Dali set through Claire Emslie, who managed to beat Hannah Blundell and finish well into the bottom corner.
The goal proved to be a wake-up call for United, as they took control of proceedings on the ball from there on. Everton seemed quite comfortable off the ball though, as they were happy to play on the break.
United’s first good chance came in the 21st minute and Zelem was at the centre of it. She delivered a short corner to Blundell, who put in a flat cross for Thomas. The Scotswoman drew out a save from Sandy Maciver and a follow-up was blocked.
United grew into the game from there on and began to stretch the Everton backline more. And the pressure paid off in the 35th minute, as One Battle combined with Groenen for a one-two and then set up Russo at the far post. While the United forward had to wheel backwards, she finished well to equalise.
Everton, who had relied on the break after they had gone ahead, had a golden chance to go back ahead just before half time. Dali played in Emslie again and Toni Duggan was played into the box. The 30-year-old managed to set up Izzy Christensen, who fired just wide of the mark.
United had a great chance to go 2-1 up early in the second half after Thomas had used a Cruyff turn to beat an Everton player and Toone was at the end of a cross. But her volley went over the bar.
Three minutes later, Thomas was brought down in the box by Lucy Graham and United got a deserved penalty. As usual, Zelem did convert the spot-kick to hand United a lead in the 54th minute.
About ten minutes later, Thomas did find the back of the net with a rebound. But she was flagged offside in what was a controversial decision indeed.
Everton grew into the game and United, scarred by multiple late goals this season, seemed to become nervous. But despite Everton’s influence growing, it was Russo who secured all three points in the 84th minute.
Zelem was heavily involved once again from a corner as her ball met Russo, who looped a header over the Everton keeper. United didn’t concede a late goal in the last few minutes, keeping it tight and sealing all three points.
United are now third in the WSL table, three points clear of Man City, who have a game in hand. The Reds are now five points behind Arsenal, who also have a game in hand.