Yet another dramatic late win sent a record crowd at Leigh Sports Village into joyous celebration as the Reds saw off their noisy neighbors, Manchester City, in a Manchester Derby to remember. Lucia Garcia grabbed the game-winning goal in stoppage time against the Citizens, securing European qualification for the first time in United’s young history.
United opened the scoring early with a Hayley Ladd golazo in just the second minute. City’s defense thought they’d cleared the danger only for a quick counter press to win the ball back on the edge of the box. The midfielder had a look and then fired a beautiful curling effort over the keeper’s glove and into the top right corner of the net.
The sky blue side were then down to 10-women after an Ellie Roebuck red card in the first half. She charged out and slid into Nikita Parris as she charged past the last defender, taking out the player and getting none of the ball in the process.
The straight red should have been the beginning of the end of the contest, but City more than made a game of it. They held on until halftime and composed themselves, eventually equalizing with a freak Filippa Angeldahl cross turned goal looped over Mary Earps in the 68th minute. They pushed for a winner, and nearly found it on a couple occasions. Bunny Shaw looked guaranteed to score in the dying minutes of normal time before Maya Le Tissier slid in to stop the shot and save the match, and potentially the season.
With the game slipping away United began to mount attacks to regain the lead and stay alive in the title race, and substitute Garcia proved once again why she should be more than just a role player. Hannah Blundell’s cross to the far post was headed back to the feet of Garcia, who quickly turned and shot past Khiara Keating.
The win is only United’s second over their Manchester rivals, and confirms their first ever league finish above the Citizens.
United remain two points behind Chelsea in the league table, but the title seems all but won by the defending champions. After beating Arsenal 2-0 earlier in the day on Sunday, Chelsea have just to beat bottom of the table Reading on the final day to secure the trophy. If Reading somehow manage to win, United could be champions if they beat Liverpool. Alternatively, if Reading could draw against Chelsea, United could become champions if they batter Liverpool by six or more goals, which did happen in January already.
But for now the side can be proud of the fact that they’ve topped their rivals and qualified for the Champions League, already the best season in the club’s history. And they did all they could do by giving themselves a chance, however small, to win the league on the final day.