FROM OLD TRAFFORD – Manchester United secured what was ultimately a comfortable 4-0 win over West Ham in the WSL on Saturday evening, but it took a flurry of second goals to get the job done.
Katie Zelem broke the deadlock from the penalty spot shortly after half-time, before game-changing substitute Lucia Garcia scored twice either side of one from Hayley Ladd.
United made a dominant start and on a few occasions worked the ball into good areas on the flanks and in the wide channels. The best of those openings saw Ona Batlle cross to Alessia Russo, whose side-footed volley missed the target from front and centre.
Russo looked to be through moments later after a clever flick from Nikita Parris, but Hammers defender Grace Fisk got a vital toe to the ball and shut down the chance.
The atmosphere was much flatter than might have been expected for an occasion such as this, but the crowd united in their disapproval of referee Emily Heaslip’s decision not to award a penalty when Ladd went down from a Hawa Cissoko nudge. In the immediate aftermath, the same United player crossed from the right, but Leah Galton headed straight at Mackenzie Arnold.
Another penalty appeal came and went in the closing stages of the first half when it was Galton who went down chasing a long ball. Again, cries from the crowd, again Heaslip was un-moved.
Despite some opportunities, United hadn’t done enough to properly test Arnold by the break, while West Ham’s only real sight of goal by then came in an earlier scramble with a cross into the six-yard box – the only outcome was Mary Earps needing lengthy treatment for a foot injury.
But United came out with a little more vigour after the restart. Russo fired just over with a bullet header, while Galton couldn’t stretch far enough to connect with a cross from the right. But it ended up being Zelem from the spot that broke the deadlock during that spell, sending Arnold the wrong way after Russo’s legs had been taken by the sliding Cissoko.
The second goal shortly after the hour was the result of a higher tempo and more intensity in the press. Hammers full-back Risa Shimizu was caught on the ball and before the visitors knew it, the ball was in the net, with Ella Toone spotting the run of Garcia in behind Cissoko and the substitute calmly finishing beyond the reach of Arnold – there was no hint of offside.
Having not been at their best earlier on, United were cruising by the late stages. West Ham’s resistance was broken and the third from Ladd didn’t come as a surprise. With gaps opening up, Batlle got forward with purpose and laid the ball back to the Welsh midfielder, whose left footed finish nestled in the bottom corner.
Earps had to make a couple of late saves to preserve her clean sheet. Instead of seeing the lead cut to 3-1, United then made it four when the lethal Garcia was in the right place at the right time to tap in the rebound from Martha Thomas’ initial shot.
GK: Mary Earps – 6/10 – Shook off an early knock. Mostly a spectator until a couple of late saves preserved the clean sheet.
RB: Ona Batlle – 8/10 – Always looked threatening when she burst forward right until the end when she laid on the third goal.
CB: Maya Le Tissier – 7/10 – Distributed the ball so well as she has become known for.
CB: Millie Turner – 7/10 – Cleared the ball from potentially dangerous positions several times to ensure it never actually became a threat.
LB: Hannah Blundell – 8/10 – Played with so much energy up and down the left.
CM: Hayley Ladd – 8/10 – Consistent as always on both sides of the ball and added a late goal for good measure.
CM: Katie Zelem (c) – 8/10 – Sat deep in open to try and create, but also stopped West Ham playing. Cool and composed from the spot to break the deadlock at a crucial time.
AM: Ella Toone – 7/10 – Pulled into wide channels to connect with United’s wingers and try to pull West Ham out of their shape. Killer pass created the second goal.
RW: Nikita Parris – 6/10 – Looked an early threat in the first half, including a very good flick to make a half chance for Russo. Withdrawn not long into the second.
ST: Alessia Russo – 7/10 – A mixture of trying to bulldoze her way through and some neat interplay.
LW: Leah Galton – 7/10 – Made her 100th United appearance looking for another ‘big stadium’ goal. Didn’t get on the scoresheet but made the second goal by winning the ball high up the pitch.
SUB: Lucia Garcia (55′ for Parris) – 8/10 – Made all the difference off the bench.
SUB: Martha Thomas (66′ for Leah Galton) – 7/10
SUB: Rachel Williams (80′ for Russo) – 6/10
SUB: Aoife Mannion (81′ for Turner) – 6/10
Marc Skinner – 7/10 – His team played with more tempo after the break. Also started to ring the changes after going 1-0 up to keep things fresh at the top end of the pitch.
GK: Mackenzie Arnold – 6/10 – Made a few basic saves but stood little chance with the goals.
RB: Risa Shimzu – 5/10 – Guilty of losing the ball to present United with their vital second goal.
CB: Grace Fisk – 5/10 – Sat a little too deep for the second goal and ended up playing Garcia onside when Cissoko had pushed up.
CB: Hawa Cissoko – 6/10 – Had a really solid first half with a number of big tackles and interventions. But was done by a Russo cutback moments after the restart to give away a penalty.
LB: Kirsty Smith – 5/10 – A tough day against her former club.
CM: Dagny Brynjarsdottir (c) – 4/10 – Identified as a threat beforehand and really didn’t have that impact until it was way too late.
CM: Lucy Parker – 5/10 – Struggled to lay a glove on United, even in the first half.
RM: Emma Snerle – 4/10 – Got no spare change out of Blundell.
AM: Honoka Hayashi – 5/10 – Looked promising when she got hold of the ball, but it happened so little that it didn’t really matter in the end.
LM: Viviane Asseyi – 5/10 – Not involved enough to make a difference, either when on the left or later when she moved into the ‘number nine’ role.
ST: Amalie Thestrup – 5/10 – An evening of hard graft with minimal service.
SUB: Lisa Evans (64′ for Thestrup) – 5/10
SUB: Izzy Atkinson (69′ for Snerle) – 5/10
SUB: Shannon Cooke (79′ for Cissoko) – 5/10
SUB: Kate Longhurst (79′ for Hayashi) – 5/10
SUB: Anouk Denton (79′ for Smith) – 5/10
Paul Konchesky – 6/10 – His side defended pretty well for 45 minutes but will rue giving away a penalty and then slack defending for the second goal.