It was a late Rachel Williams goal that proved to be the difference-marker for United, who conceded two rather avoidable goals that came as a result of obvious defensive errors. But a result is all that matters in a semi-final and it could provide hope to the men’s side, who also take on Brighton in their own FA Cup semi-final.
Vilde Boe Risa had started United’s previous game, which was against Brighton themselves but the Norwegian was replaced by Lucia Garcia on the right. The rest of the side remained the same, with Ella Toone, Alessio Russo and Leah Galton starting infront of the usual midfield pairing of Hayley Ladd and Katie Zelem.
The reliable defensive duo of Millie Turner and Maya Le Tissier started, having done well in the previous game against the Seagulls.
United’s clearest chance came in the 27th minute. A cross from Toone from the left hit Garcia inadvertently on the chest and fell to Russo. The England international blazed a shot at goal but it was parried brilliantly by Brighton goalkeeper Williams, who ended up having quite a decent game.
Garcia was the creator of another chance one minute later but it was created much more deliberately. The Spaniard went past two Brighton players on the right brilliantly and her cross met Galton at the back post and somehow, Williams got a touch to the header and it went out for a corner.
But United were handed a freakish blow minutes later, as Mary Earps couldn’t punch a cross from the left by Veatriki Sarri and instead of going away from goal, the cross landed into the back of the net after going through Earps’ hands.
Garcia, desperate for an equaliser, went past 3 Brighton players on the right in the 40 minute and her mazing run ended with a tame effort which was right at Williams.
At the very beginning of the first half, United drew level. Batlle, who is United’s usual chief creator on the right in what has been another impressive season, put in a perfect cross for Galton in the middle and the finish was easy and perfect from the United forward, who kept her goalscoring form going.
Galton’s move down the left flank nearly put United ahead. She did some great work on the left and put a cross in for Toone, who was free down the middle, but her attempt went just over Williams’ goal. It was a sign that the abilities of the United players to make runs in-behind was working out quite well.
The Seagulls had a chance to go back in front some minutes later and Sarri nearly got a stunning second from some distance out. But Earps, this time, lived upto her name and tipped it over the bar.
Brighton lived to regret that chance as they went behind for the first time in the FA Cup campaign in the 72nd minute. Zelem put Russo through on the right and while she did have a couple of defenders around her, Russo managed to rocket her shot into the roof of the net and beat Williams. Zelem’s excellent composure in the final third proved vital in the goal.
Zelem’s set piece nearly led to another goal for United, but Martha Thomas’ header was right at Williams.
But only a minute later, United gave up another avoidable goal. Millie Turner was hesitant in her back pass to Earps and made a mess of the situation, with Dan Carter pressing her. Carter picked up the loose ball and beat Earps easily, handing Brighton the equaliser.
Just when it seemed as if the game was heading into extra time, United countered quickly in the 89th minute and Rachel Williams managed to become the super sub once again. She was put through 1v1 on goal and finished calmly into the bottom corner to score for two games running against the Seagulls. The goal left Marc Skinner euphoric on the touchline, as United probably deserved the lead.
United held on to their valuable lead, reaching their first ever FA Cup final. Reigning Champions Chelsea take on Aston Villa tomorrow and a win for the Blues could make it their third consecutive FA Cup final in a row.