As women’s football grows in popularity, more clubs are playing their matches at venues traditionally used by the men’s team.
Manchester United held their recent match at home to Everton at the famous Old Trafford stadium, and I was lucky enough to be invited along to enjoy a full match day experience on the red side of Manchester. Read on to see how the day went.
It was hard to know what this fixture meant to both teams. They were in very different places on the day, compared to where perhaps many would have thought at the start of the season.
The Toffees were ninth in the league at the start of the day, and after spending big in the summer, had failed to compete for the Champions League spots compared to their opposition this season. Everton’s game prior to this match was a 4-0 loss to Man City. A feat that they would be hoping to not repeat.
United were in third position above their Manchester rivals. However, due to City’s game being postponed, they had a chance to keep pressure on the blues for the final Champions League spot. United’s last home game prior to this match was a 4-0 win over Leicester.
The fan experience
Is there a better way to showcase the potential of woman’s football than to hold a WSL game at Old Trafford?
It was the first time the United women had played at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ in front of fans; last season they played West Ham United, winning 2-0.
Both sets of fans had things to be cheerful about. Everton supporters were provided with free coach travel to the game, along with some gifts for the travelling fans.
Being on the coach with the fans was an amazing insight into the atmosphere within the club, and there was a belief that they could get something from the game as they were singing, handing out songbooks and sharing a few jokes.
Just another typical away day for most fans.
The Toffees started the brightest at the beginning of the first half, and when Kenza Dali found Claire Emslie with a through ball, the former City star carried the ball into the box to score in the fourth minute right in the lower left of the goal past United keeper Mary Earps. In doing so, Emslie became the first female player to score against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
United had two efforts in the first opening 10 minutes. The first came from captain Katie Zelem whose right-footed effort from outside of the box went over the bar. Alessia Russo then had a shot also from outside of the box saved by Toffees keeper Sandy MacIver.
The Red Devils continued to press for a goal but was denied in the 21st minute when Hannah Blundell found Martha Thomas from a cross, but Thomas’ shot was saved by MacIver. However, the keeper failed to make a clean catch, and the Everton defence only partially cleared, gifting Leah Galton a chance with a bicycle kick, but her effort was blocked by Gabrielle George.
Ona Batlle then crossed the ball into the Toffees’ penalty area, where Russo was waiting to head the ball over MacIver into the right side of the goal and draw United level in the 35th minute. Blundell had an attempt blocked and Everton captain Izzy Christiansen hit an effort over the bar in the 43rd minute, and by the time the half-time whistle had blown, both sides could argue that they should’ve been in front.
It was United that started the brightest of the two sides, and in the 50th minute, Thomas was able to turn Megan Finnigan and cross the ball towards the back post where Ella Toone was waiting to tap the ball home, only to see her effort go high in front of the United fans in the West Stand.
United were awarded a penalty when Thomas was brought down by Lucy Graham from behind after the Toffees failed to clear the ball. It was Zelem who stepped up to take the penalty, hitting the ball right down the middle of Sandy McIver’s goal in the 51st minute.
United weren’t finished and put the result away in the 84th minute when Zelem’s corner found the head of Russo to score her brace, with another lofted header over the Everton defence which sealed the victory for the Red Devils.
Everton had one last effort in the fourth minute of added time when Aurora Galli saw her shot from outside of the box go just wide of the left post.
The win kept the Red Devils third with three points, ahead of their city rivals, as well as a three-goal advantage to keep hold of the final Champions League spot.
However, due to a few postponements over the last week, there is a chance that both Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur will still be looking to take that third spot away from United.
United’s remaining games
- 24 April: Aston Villa (Away)
- 1 May: West Ham United (Home)
- 8 May: Chelsea (Away)
The Toffees stayed ninth in the table but have some tough games ahead in their hopes to stay in the Women’s Super League for next season. However, they took a step closer to securing their position with a 0-0 draw against Birmingham City.
Everton’s remaining games
- 24 April: Arsenal (Home)
- 1 May: Tottenham Hotspur (Home)
- 8 May: Brighton & Hove Albion (Away)
With over 20,000 in attendance, this is just a small percentage of what we can look forward to in the summer.
While Everton were undone by set pieces, they put on a determined display doing themselves no harm or shame.
Goalscorer Claire Emslie told Everton TV: “I think that they [United] had a lot of chances and we did well to defend with Gabby and Meg and made some good challenges just to keep the ball out of the net. Eventually, it broke us down. But we just need to stay together as a team. It’s been a few hard weeks and today we gave it our all and it just wasn’t enough.”
United might look back on this game with joy. Scoring all three of their goals from set-pieces has been a common theme this season, including when Katie Zelem has scored in back to back games directly from corners in previous games. Zelem herself mentioned in her interview for the match programme that they have been working hard on set pieces.
This was also a big opportunity for players to show they deserve to be in the discussion for making it to the Euros. For me, some of these United players don’t look to bring something different compared to other players.
Player to look out for
Alessia Russo had a great game, but if she is to be considered a striker for England, her presence in the box must increase.
Several times throughout the game, she was passing the ball outside of the box and not running into the box.
Lastly, I would like to thank:
- Remington for the ticket for the game
- Everton Supporters Group who were amazing throughout the game.
- Everton, who provided the travelling supporters a chance to get to the game free of charge.