Manchester United played a sound match against a very solid Everton squad to earn three points on the road and stay atop the table with league leaders Chelsea.
Ella Toone and Christen Press scored first half goals for the visitors, while a strong midfield effort backed by several excellent saves from Mary Earps provided the defense necessary for the Reds to gain the three points.
An evenly played match saw United have the better of the play in the first half, while Everton returned in the second with a much better effort. The Reds' defence was the difference, and Toone’s goal certainly deflated the home side early on.
Story of the Match
The story of this match was the strong, clinical controlling style of the Manchester attack. The first half was played consistently in the Everton final third. From the opening whistle, the Reds attacked down the left side and used a very effective high press to control the action.
United midfielders Jackie Groenen and Hayley Ladd were very strong on the ball while directing the attack and kept Everton from coming out of their own end. The Reds' first quality shot from Press was stopped easily by Sandy MacIver in the eighth minute, but the visitors struck right back.
Leah Galton’s cross came to MacIver, but the goalkeeper couldn’t handle it and the ball fell to Toone for an easy tap-in. Her sixth of the season gave United the lead in only the ninth minute.
From there, United controlled play for the next several minutes, pushing strong down the left side. The Toffees finally started to come out of their end starting in the 21st minute. A well-designed attack did not yield a result, but it was their first positive foray into the United third.
The next twenty minutes saw attacks by both sides, and it was the Reds that broke through late. A strong run by Press earned her some space at the top of the box, and she was able to put it past MacIver for a 2-0 United lead in the 42nd minute.
The second half saw more action from the home side, and the match was more free flowing. Alisha Lehmann made her Everton debut, having come over on loan from West Ham earlier in the week. She brought energy to Everton, and the Toffees did have better chances than they did in the first half. The best chance for the home side came off of Jill Scott’s boot, but Earps was up to the task.
Neither side was able to find the back of the net in the second half, and Casey Stoney’s side pick up their second clean sheet in as many weeks. The Reds face off against Reading next Sunday, while Everton hosts Birmingham City.
United played a strong, complete game from opening whistle to closing whistle and earned the three points. Most importantly, they kept pace with top of the table Chelsea. Big weekday matches coming up for the table leaders during the second week of February see United take on Manchester City on Friday the 12th; Chelsea face Arsenal on Wednesday the 10th.
Everton, meanwhile, has fallen away from the 'Big Four'. Losses in three of their last four matches have left the Toffees just two points ahead of Reading in the middle of the table. While out-matched today, they did play well and had several chances. Willie Kirk’s side can take many positives from this match as they prepare for next Sunday against The Blues. New transfers Scott and Lehmann played very well, and Valerie Gauvin saw significant minutes for the first time since returning from injury.
Scott, coming over from Manchester City, certainly showed that her game and her passion have not dipped at all. Making her 150th WSL appearance, she was a strong presence for the Everton throughout, and left everything on the pitch. She had several good efforts in the attacking third, including a terrific shot early in the second that required a stronger effort from Earps to keep the score at 2-0. Scott also earned a yellow card for her aggressive tackle on Ona Batlle; the passion of one of England’s greatest midfielders was very impressive this afternoon.
For the victors, it wasn’t so much a player of the match as it was their manager.
Seeing all of her players doing what they need to do, working hard, and making intelligent plays throughout, one is struck by Stoney’s skill as manager. Her ability to analyze both her team and an opponent before, during, and after a match; then to make necessary adjustments, is a treat to watch. An amazing leader who has taken her team to amazing heights in just three seasons.