Manchester United went back to the pinnacle of the WSL table, as they picked up a decisive 4-0 win over relegation-threatened Brighton at Broadfield in Crawley.
While Brighton did show signs of revival, goals from Leah Galton, Rachel Williams and Lucia Garcia provided decisive in the tie. Even though Ella Toone and Alessio Russo didn’t find the back of the net, United showed that they could dominate games without the duo scoring.
Coming into the game at the back of his Manager of the Month award win, Marc Skinner handed a rare WSL start to Vilde Bøe Risa in the attacking midfield spot. Toone started on the right and Galton started on the left, with Russo taking her usual spot upfront.
The back seven of the United side remained unchanged from the win over West Ham, as Katie Zelem started alongside Hayley Ladd in midfield and the back four of Ona Batlle, Maya le Tissier, Millie Turner and Hannah Blundell started in front of Mary Earps. Le Tissier was starting against her former club, having joined in the summer and after having impressed against the Seagulls in the reverse fixture.
The United defender’s impressive pass from the back proved key for United’s opener. Le Tissier lifted a ball to Galton on the left and her resulting pass inside did meet Russo, but a deflection put it wide.
Zelem’s resulting corner was perfect and met the head of Galton, who was unmarked inside the box. Brighton players did raise the question about an offside but the calls were dismissed quickly, as the United wide player finished comfortably from close range.
The Seagulls did have a chance to equalise at the 30-minute mark, but a far post header went just over goal after a neatly taken set-piece.
While the muddy pitch on both the ends didn’t help the tempo of the game, both sides keeping a high line meant that there was always space in-behind. United were usually more often in possession, allowing Brighton more spaces in-behind to exploit on the break. The Seagulls nearly utilised that space using Geum-Min Lee but she was caught offside.
United nearly got the 2nd in the 37th minute as Zelem’s free kick nearly met Bøe Risa and Brighton goalkeeper Lydia Williams almost ended up dropping the ball inside the box before gobbling it up.
United’s key outlet was Galton and Russo gaining numerical advantages down the Brighton right side and Le Tissier constantly trying to pick that out. The move was executed twice in the first half, even though it didn’t lead to a second United goal.
Brighton began the 2nd half well and nearly got a goal of their own in the 51st minute. Katie Robinson found herself free at the back post following a cross by Poppy Pattinson and her pass inside was straight to Lee, who managed to get her shot away from close range but it deflected into Mary Earps’ arms after Turner got a vital touch in.
Despite Brighton doing well in the 2nd half, it was United who grabbed a huge goal through Galton. Taking advantage of the opposition’s higher defensive line, Galton made a great run in-behind and was picked out by Zelem. She managed to go past the keeper to create a narrow angle and finished precisely into the bottom corner.
United had the ball in the back of them at the 75th minute mark after Galton had set up Toone at the back post. But the England international was offside. Minutes later, Russo was through on goal but her low shot was saved strongly by Williams.
Rachel Williams, who has played a key role for United off the bench this season, nearly put the final nail in Brighton’s coffin in the 82nd minute. After Galton was brought down and the referee didn’t blow her whistle, Williams picked up the loose ball and rammed a shot right at Lydia Williams. It could have been another one of her trademark goals from the bench.
The ex-Spurs forward did get a goal three minutes later. Zelem was involved once again, as her corner met Williams’ head perfectly at the back post. Williams made it three for United and a minute later, another United sub in Lucia Garcia got her name on the list of goalscorers.
Brighton failed to play out from the back and a pass back fell right at Garcia, who easily steered past the goalkeeper and found the back of an empty net.
It was United’s second consecutive 4-0 win and with second-placed Manchester City taking on Arsenal on Sunday, United advantage at the top of the table can prove vital.