Grumbles about potential discontent under Skinner have never been too far away at United, but they looked to swat those away against Spurs, who began the game only three points behind United in the table.
Hinita Miyazawa, who had scored against Bristol City in the previous game, had sustained an injury during the international break and wasn’t in the squad. The familiar duo of Katie Zelem and Hayley Ladd started in midfield, with Geyse dropping to the bench to make way for Melvine Malard.
Mary Earps, who had featured during the international break for England, started in goal and the backline remained the same as it was against Bristol. Jade Riviere started at right-back, with the reliable Hannah Blundell featuring at left-back. Maya le Tissier and Millie Turner partnered with each other at centre-back, and Ella Toone, Leah Galton, and Nikita Parris starting behind Malard.
Caginess is probably the name of the game early on and it stayed that way for quite a while, as both teams tested each other out slowly.
First big chance of the game fell in the way of Tottenham, whose start to the game was rather promising. Bethany England had a shot blocked on the goalline by Le Tissier from a rather close range after Earps had saved ex-Red Martha Thomas’ shot but it had fallen right in England’s way. United somehow survived by the skin of their teeth.
United’s first genuine chance came in the 25th minute and it came as a result of a bit of a confusion in the Spurs backline. Riviere’s cross from the right wasn’t great but Spurs goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer didn’t sweep up in time, allowing Galton to get to it quickly but her side footed effort went just over the post.
Spencer’s inability to react on time did cost Spurs a goal some minutes later. Blundell’s brilliant cross was met by a cheeky run by Malard, whose finish was net and beat Spencer with her only touch to hand United the lead. United’s dominance of possession had paid off, as Malard’s movement proved predatory.
Hannah Blundell sends in a beautiful ball and Melvine Malard gets in on the action!— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) December 10, 2023
Man Utd are ahead. pic.twitter.com/M5Yx6JZeiN
A rather dull rest of the first half was followed by a brighter start from United in the second half and they were handed a second goal, which was fair considering the balance of possession and the dominance of it.
Malard was involved again, as she plucked out of a difficult ball beautifully onto her and played a perfect ball over the top and in-behind for Toone. The England international latched onto it perfectly before Spencer could get to it, finishing into the roof of the net with her first touch.
Melvine Malard, this time with the assist.— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) December 10, 2023
Ella Toone with an exquisite finish. pic.twitter.com/HmXNlcltkl
United didn’t stop there, as Ladd proved vital for the third goal. The United defensive midfielder made a brilliant, penetrating run inside the box, going past two Spurs players and while she was stopped by a defender, it fell to Malard at the edge of the box and she fired into the lower corner with her left foot, putting the game past Tottenham.
Make that two goals and an assist for Melvine Malard pic.twitter.com/U2ZBhRi4h5— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) December 10, 2023
United did take their foot off the gas after the third goal, conceding more of possession and allowing Spurs to come forward more often and with more numbers.
Celin Bizet Ildhusøy had an excellent chance to pull one back in the 73rd minute and the move came as a counter-attack when United had transitioned quickly. The Norwegian did well to hold off challenges down the left and found herself 1v1 with Earps but her shot was tame and was saved easily by Earps.
Five minutes later, substitute Geyse had an excellent chance to get United’s fourth. With Spurs building against a United press, Riviere won the ball quickly and it fell right at Geyse, who took a couple of touches to create an opening on the right but her effort skied over the post, disappointingly.
Ladd, who had created the third goal, got United’s fourth in the 84th minute. Substitute Lucia Garcia had done well to hold onto the ball in space down the left and her pass inside met Ladd inside the box and the midfielder hit it very well, leaving Spencer to only look at the ball as it lobbed into the back of the net.
The rest of the tie proved to be relatively uneventful, capping off a game which wasn’t the most exciting but United took all the chances they got and made merry.
The win took United to fourth in the table, as they are now only one point behind rivals City, who are at third. The gap between United and Spurs was slim before the game, but the victory extended that lead to six points, with Liverpool in fifth.