In what was the first dramatic day in the WSL season, Manchester United grabbed a thrilling 2-1 comeback win over Aston Villa at Villa Park on Sunday afternoon to start their 2023/24 FA Women’s Super League campaign.
The game picked up right at the very end of the tie and the sending off of Kirsty Hanson helped United come back to seal all three points.
Due to injuries in the squad, Marc Skinner had to make some changes to the side and two new signings started. Brazilian forward Geyse started upfront, as she replaced the departed Alessia Russo. Gabby George started at left-back, with Hannah Blundell shifting to right-back. Summer signing Hinata Miyazawa was on the bench.
Mary Earps, who had stayed at the club despite interest from Arsenal, started between the sticks. The United midfield consisted of Katie Zelem and Hayley Ladd, with Maya le Tissier and Millie Turner starting behind them.
United’s first genuine chance of the game fell to Geyse. A long-ball in behind found the Brazilian free and after a couple of touches, Geyser found some space to strike it but it was parried away for a corner by Villa stopper Daphne van Domselaar.
Van Domselaar made a save in the 28th minute as well, but it was a more regular one. Zelem’s cross from a set piece from the right saw Turner head right at Van Domselaar, who saw an effort from Galton sail over the post a minute later.
Villa weren’t imposing in possession, but they did find space between the lines multiple times but could never really create concrete chances.
The 42nd minute saw Geyse rifle in a cross from the right and while it didn’t reach Galton, who was waiting at the back post, it deflected into the path of Ladd. The United midfielder slipped just before she could get a shot away.
Villa had a rather prominent penalty call in the 63rd minute, as Le Tissier brought down Ebony Salmon but after a VAR call revealed that the foul was committed outside the area.
The Birmingham side had a really good chance to take the lead a couple of minutes later. United failed to clear a corner and the ball fell to Rachel Daly at the edge of the box. The Villa striker’s shot was scuffed but it hit the outside of the post and went out, but it did trouble Earps. It was clear though, that Villa were more in the game than United were in the first 45.
Villa had a 2v2 situation in the 73rd minute and were almost certain to create their first, proper chance. But Le Tissier made a brilliant last ditch tackle to take the ball off Daly.
Just when it seemed as if Villa were gaining control over the game, Kirsty Hanson was sent off for a high challenge. While the sending off should’ve negatively impacted Villa, it didn’t. Former United winger Adriana Leon set Daly up beautifully with a cross down the centre, with the 31-year-old sending a precise shot through to Earps’ near post to hand Villa the lead.
But the lead didn’t last long. United took advantage of Villa being a player down during a set piece. Zelem’s delivery did the damage once again, as Turner’s shot was blocked and Villa failed to clear, Garcia hammered in from close range.
United kept up the momentum and went hunting for a winner immediately after equalizing.
Garcia’s brilliant run down the left caused problems for Villa a minute later and her cross inside for Rachel Williams was blocked. It was clear that United were taking advantage of the situation and began dominating possession.
In the 90th minute, United had a huge chance to take the lead. After a good period of possession, Zelem received the ball just inside the box and just when it seemed as if her shot was heading into the top corner, Van Domselaar tipped it wide to keep the scoreline at 1-1.
Debutant Hinata Miyazawa fired a shot right at Van Domselaar a minute later. It was a combination of two substitutes in Nikita Parris and Rachel Williams that brought about the late winner. Parris hung a cross at the back post and Williams beat her marker and placed a header into the bottom corner to score another vital, last ditch goal for the Reds.
It was Williams’ second late goal for United against Villa, as the ex-Tottenham star had done the same last season at home in a 5-0 win.
Skinner’s side had also grabbed a terrific late winner against Villa towards the end of last season through Turner and they repeated it again today. Williams has made a real habit of scoring late goals since joining the side from Spurs and United can only hope she provides a similar value as the season wears on.
The dramatic opening day win is a nice boost for the Reds after a long summer, but there isn’t much time to celebrate with a visit from Arsenal coming up next Friday evening.