Manchester United 1 Manchester City 3
As the ball hit the net for Manchester City’s equaliser, Chloe Kelly’s first action was to turn to face the Stretford End and cup her ear to taunt the silenced Manchester United fans. The England winger even threw the hosts a cheeky wave, as goalscorer Jill Roord raced over to hug her and thank her for providing the assist.
Just 80 seconds later, when Lauren Hemp curled in superbly to put resurgent City 2-1 ahead, Hemp ran across to the slide on her knees in front of the home supporters. Suddenly, in front of 43,615 people, this truly felt like a local derby.
Whether it was those moments of gleeful taunting from the visitors, or the home end ‘waving’ goodbye to Spain defender Laia Aleixandri after she was sent off in the second half, this was not only the day the Women’s Super League saw its first Old Trafford Manchester derby, but also the day the wider public watching live on Sky Sports will have truly sensed there is deep-rooted local rivalry at the top of the women’s game.
This was not the family day out the WSL often used to be marketed as. This mattered. This ran deep.
And for any Manchester United fans who have watched men’s Premier League derbies at Old Trafford in recent years, there may well also have been another reason why this felt more like a derby: They lost.
Supporters of the red half of the city’s men’s team have been more accustomed to that outcome of late, with Manchester City having won eight Premier League games at Old Trafford since 2011, but for the women that most certainly hadn’t been the case. Before Sunday, they were yet to lose a home derby in the modern women’s era.
But Gareth Taylor’s team’s wait for a first away WSL victory over their neighbours came to an end, as the blue half of the city saw their team bounce straight back from their consecutive defeats against Arsenal and Brighton to propel themselves right back into the title race.
The defeat also ended United’s women’s side’s 100 per cent winning record in WSL games at Old Trafford, having triumphed four times out of four in games at Old Trafford previously, but they had never found themselves up against a fellow title competitor on this ground, until now.
This was also United’s first home league defeat in just over a year, having been unbeaten in their previous 11 WSL fixtures at home since a 3-1 loss against Chelsea on 6 November last year. Additionally, they had not yet lost anywhere in the league this term.
Mid-way through the first half, though, a different story was on the cards. Childhood Manchester United fan Katie Zelem had put the hosts ahead from the penalty spot after an Alex Greenwood handball, and the hosts thought they had gone 2-0 when Brazil’s Geyse tucked in from a tight angle. But her goal was ruled out because the officials judged that the whole of the ball had crossed the line for a goal kick in the build-up.
Even the replays proved somewhat inconclusive – other than to point out that it clearly should have been a corner, rather than a goal kick. Manchester United manager Marc Skinner refused to be drawn on that disallowed goal after the game because he didn’t want to “be making excuses” for the defeat.
That was probably wise because, from that moment in the game onwards, his team were second best, with City causing his defence an extensive array of problems. Had it not been for two strong, one-on-one saves from Mary Earps, to deny Kelly and then Shaw, the visitors could have scored four times before half-time. As it was, they got their third 10 minutes after the break when Earps and Maya Le Tissier combined to produce a bizarre joint mistake with two underhit passes allowing Shaw in to put pressure on an Earps clearance and block it straight into the net. From then, the visitors were comfortable, even despite Laia Aleixandri’s dismissal for a second yellow card.
Skinner lamented his side’s errors at the back, saying: “The goals we conceded are not like us.” He also admitted his team may well now need to go unbeaten for the rest of the season to challenge Chelsea, whom they are seven points behind now, in fourth. But on the atmosphere, Skinner added: “The growth of the game is huge and now it’s become a proper rivalry, rather than ‘oh, it’s a great day to be out’, and that’s credit to the fans. I like the rivalry. Losing hurts. But we have to be galvanised by the fact we’ve got to be on the other side of it next time.”