Manchester United’s drubbing of Aston Villa dominated the headlines on a day when Spurs came from behind to get the better of the Bees, Leicester showed their class against Palace and Lewes outshone Millwall after Durham had claimed maximum points over Sheffield United.
One of the unknown quantities in the Championship – but with plenty of familiar names – the Blades kicked off their second-tier life with a loss over promotion hopefuls Durham. Showing their nerves against an established team, the hosts struggled to get a footing in the match and found themselves a goal down just before the hour when Becky Salicki nodded Beth Hepple’s cross beyond Nikki Davies. Looking for more goals, the Wildcats were forced to wait until the last knockings against a determined Sheffield side, Emily Roberts’ finish into the empty net the last of the action in Stocksbridge.
Needing a little time to find their footing, the visitors struck first in Cheshunt, Paula Howells’ gol olímpico half-way through the first half enough to separate the teams at the break. Struggling against a resolute defence, the hosts had the better of it in the second half, Bianca Baptiste catalysing things off of the bench, a foul on Jess Naz enough to spark the comeback. Coral-Jade Haines’ pin-point penalty enough for parity before Josie Green struck a thunderbolt from 25-yards with ten minutes left, the Bees without a response.
Having been one of the standout attackers in WSL 2 last season, Melissa Johnson picked up right where she left off with her new club, the Foxes a goal to the good 18 minutes in thanks to her stunning solo effort. A good contest throughout, the visitors claimed the better chances and often found themselves thwarted by Megen Lynch in the home goal, the shot-stopper unable to deny Holly Morgan with 15 minutes to go. The ball left to ping from Charlotte Greengrass’s head to Morgan’s at a Sherry McCue free kick, the goalkeeper left grasping at air as the back of the net rippled, the Foxes having wrapped up all three points with time to spare.
Having fast settled into the pace of the second tier, Lewes again put in a strong showing to get the better of a youthful Millwall side. Needing a long look at the referee two minutes in, Samantha Quayle was left to wheel away in celebration after the official signalled for a goal at a scrappy corner that saw the ball just slip over the line. The lead was doubled half-way through the half when Rebecca Carter chased down a ball over the top and slotted it into the far corner.
In control of the game, the visitors were frequently denied by some stunning goalkeeping from Grace Taylor, the teenager unable to do anything to stop Avilla Bergin on the stroke of half time. Improvements from the hosts after the break not enough to take anything from the tie.
The only professional team in a league of semi-pros, United showed what investment can do for a team when they played their first league match for 13 years, brushing aside one of the weakest teams in the division. Former Arsenal youngster Lauren James fast repaid Casey Stoney’s faith in her with a low shot to beat Sian Rogers, ten minutes into the match, James’ second a peach from outside the box.
The defence didn’t know which way to turn as Jess Sigsworth broke into the box and slotted the ball home, Katie Zelem’s penalty four minutes later made it four before Sigsworth scored two in two minutes before the break. With three to her name, Sigsworth added her fourth early in the second half before former Belles strike-partner Kirsty Hanson got in on the action with a smart run and shoot. The young Scot’s brace wrapped up four minutes later with a clinical drive to the bottom corner form 20-yards.
Nine fast became ten as Sigsworth added yet another on the hour, half-time substitute Mollie Green added the 11 with a close-range volley before Ella Toone made it 12. The result not just a marker for the Red Devils but something that only raises questions as to what United are doing in the second tier.