This riveting, high-octane derby ended with Manchester United and Manchester City each taking a deserved share of the spoils. The visitors were reduced to 10 players when Georgia Stanway was sent off for an industrial challenge on Leah Galton in the 35th minute, took the lead shortly afterwards, then fell behind to two quick goals inside the last quarter but claimed a point through Ellen White 11 minutes from time.
The draw ended the rot of three consecutive Women’s Super League defeats for City and eased the pressure on Gareth Taylor. While the manager professed disappointment at failing to close out the victory, he rightly pointed to his side’s spirit and quality. “I said to my players: ‘I take my hat off you’ – you don’t expect a team down to 10 to do that,” he said. “There is a slight disappointment we haven’t won the game but the resilience they showed is something definitely we need to build on.”
Taylor said of Stanway’s dismissal: “Having seen it back I can see why the referee made the decision. I was a bit disappointed we didn’t stay at 11. I feel with 11 I can quite comfortably say we would win. We have to have players who are sensible and not have players who give officials decisions to make – hopefully she learns from this.”
City’s character was evident in performing so well when a woman down, particularly after their lead became a 2-1 deficit within three minutes. This was personified by Lauren Hemp, who decorated the contest with an exhibition of menacing wing-forward play that terrorised the hosts along her left flank. After Marc Skinner’s hosts had begun with their feet to the throttle, Hemp took over, first feeding Demi Stokes – who also excelled throughout – on an overlap that had United scrambling in their area.
The No 15 then twice went close to scoring. First, Mary Earps made a cat-like reflex save from Hemp’s effort; then Maria Thorisdottir cleared the next one off the line.
Then came the disaster of Stanway’s reckless tackle on Galton’s thigh; think Paul Gascoigne’s scythe on Gary Charles in the 1991 FA Cup final. The referee, Rebecca Welch, deliberated before raising the red card to the right-back.
Disaster, though, was soon moved aside by the triumph of Khadija Shaw’s opener. Hemp played a part by drawing a free-kick from Thorisdottir and when play went along the left another Stokes surge preceded the left-back lifting the ball over for the No 9 to crash in a header.
Here was vindication, too, for Taylor’s preference of Shaw ahead of White, who was dropped 24 hours after being nominated for the Ballon d’Or. White, though, entered after the break when Shaw was hurt and she would have a crucial impact.
Before this, Skinner’s own change turned his team’s fortunes as Lucy Staniforth equalised in the 72nd minute, shortly after coming on. City were culpable for switching off as Hannah Blundell took a short corner to Ella Toone, who chipped in for Staniforth to beat a hapless Karima Taieb.
Three minutes later Taylor’s side were 2-1 behind after Alessia Russo’s swivel-then-finish from 20 yards, which left City staring at a likely fourth consecutive defeat and further awkward questions for their manager.
But City were soon level. Jess Park, herself a substitute, crashed a long-range effort off Earps’s bar and White mopped up for a sweet personal moment – this was her first goal of the season.
Skinner conceded United should have won from the moment they had an extra player. “It’s a learning curve for the team,” said a manager who took over in the close season.
Taylor was asked if the result eases the pressure. “It is always there,” he said. “But I believe in what we do.” So, too, do his players on the evidence of an afternoon that may mark the start of an upsurge in fortune.