Notts County Ladies (Clarke 48 [p]) 1-5 Manchester City Women (Ross 5, 41, Scott 25, Stanway 45 + 1, Christiansen 73)
Competition: FA Women’s Super League 1
Venue: Meadow Lane, Nottingham (att: 1,627)
Date: 24 July 2016 (16:00)
City Women kicked off their 9th league game of the 2016 season knowing that title rivals Chelsea and Arsenal had both recorded thumping 4-0 victories earlier on in the day, against Doncaster Rovers Belles and Sunderland respectively. Having two games in hand over the London sides, the chance was there for the Blues to cement their place at the top of the table, and boy did they take it. The first half saw some of the best play from this City side ever, whilst the Blues’ quality shone through across the entire 90 minutes. Never mind stealing from the rich to give to the poor – this is Robin Hood country after all – City plundered Notts County’s locker with ease.
The desire was there for City from the off, perhaps because a number of the Starting XI were getting their first start for a significant period, not least Izzy Christiansen, returning from injury, and youngsters Georgia Stanway and Keira Walsh. In a shock to many, Demi Stokes began the game on the bench, with Irish throw-in queen Megan Campbell preferred at left back. Kosovare Asllani’s involvement with Sweden’s Olympic preparations gave Walsh a chance to prove her worth in midfield, and this rotated City side took all of five minutes to make their mark, Jane Ross scoring her fifth league goal of the season with a wonderful dink from the left of the penalty area, after Christiansen’s tenacity paid off.
City continued to turn the screw on a disjointed County side, pressing fiercely and playing at times very impressively. After 18 minutes, the Blues had a chance to double their advantage, Nikita Parris flicking on to Jill Scott, who shot wide. Parris then had a good attempt at converting Megan Campbell’s first throw-in of the afternoon, before play stopped City right back Lucy Bronze came a cropper in the throw-in melee, receiving a nosebleed for her troubles.
The Blues continued to play with vigour, and it was delightful to see how well teenager Walsh commanded the centre of the park against an experienced County team. Christiansen always makes such a difference whenever she’s in the side, and it was as if the rest of the Blues were imbued with her unrelenting commitment on Sunday, too. The midfielder was thwarted by County keeper Megan Walsh on 24 mins, before Scott netted a minute later, landing an exceptional header on to Campbell’s cross. It was a thoroughly deserved goal, showing City at their ruthless best.
As the half hour approached, a nasty collision involving Scott and County’s Amy Turner stopped play again, with City’s England midfielder catching teammate Parris with a trailing foot as she went over. Despite initial fears that she had damaged her wrist, Scott was soon back on the field, sporting a Vardy-esque bandage, with Turner and Parris fit to play on too. Some sloppy play from City goalie Karen Bardsley soon after indicated that the Blues still needed to concentrate, and Bronze did just that with a sharp tackle on Turner in the 34th minute.
Scott was in the wars yet again, Fern Whelan somehow escaping a booking for her high challenge. Plainly frustrated – there’s nothing worse than having a bad day at the office when your opponents are playing out of their skins – County were starting to get a little ragged, discipline-wise. City continued to press forward in rampant fashion, Campbell seeing a chance sail over the bar on 39 minutes, before an absolute stunning move and goal saw City go three goals to the good. With Stanway holding the ball up in the middle of the park, belying her years, Christiansen passed quickly to Ross, whose curling shot seemed magnetically drawn into Walsh’s net. If Aguero scores something like that next season, we’ll all be frothing at the mouth over it for days. If nowt else, check this move out in the highlights.
With two minutes of the first-half remaining, City captain Steph Houghton came close with one of her trademark free-kicks, before Stanway pulled a screamer out of the bag yet again, getting City’s fourth with a shot the double of the one she thrashed past Liverpool in the FA Women’s Cup back in May. It always pays to have someone on the edge of the box when there’s a corner, and although you could argue County were a little lackadaisical (or, more likely, shellshocked) in failing to charge Stanway down, this goal typified the alertness and desire coursing through the City team. The Blues had managed to equal Chelsea and Arsenal’s scores in just 45 minutes, leaving the travelling City fans in raucous mood.
As ever with City though, there’s a twist in the tale. Of all people, skipper Houghton was the culprit early on in the second half, giving away a poor penalty after connecting with Rachel Williams’ leg, and not the ball. County were obviously on a mission to salvage some pride after a torrid first half, but the way the Lady Pies cut through City’s defence was worrying, suggesting at best a lack of concentration, at worst complacency. Clarke took a good pen, beating Bardsley as she did in this fixture last year. From City’s perspective, it was disappointing to concede so early on in the second 45, and in such a preventable manner. This was only the second league goal the Blues have conceded all season, and it has to be hoped the frustrating trend of shipping a goal every game since the mid-season break doesn’t continue. That might sound mad, but a team with a defence of City’s calibre should be keeping clean sheets, and after what was managed in the first seven games, there’s little excuse. The title could come down to goal difference, after all.
The City fans that had travelled to Nottinghamshire were in good voice still, enjoying Bronze’s excellent defending, and some good play from Parris (her pace is phenomenal). Turner found herself in the book for taking out City’s pocket dynamo in the 50th minute, before Danielle Buet went down. With County continuing to press, unlike in the first half, City began to get sloppy again. Scott had a chance on 55 minutes to stop the County half-revival as she turned in the box, only to fail to find the back of the net. Three minutes later, Parris really should have got her name on the scoresheet, timing her run to perfection and racing ahead one-on-one with the keeper, only to go to wide and be stopped by a combination of County’s Walsh and Turner.
Soon after, a nasty injury to Blues centre-half Abbie McManus stopped play again, the Prestwich-born defender landing horribly on her right ankle. City fans will await news about its extent, but the injury doesn’t look good. With McManus and Houghton’s understanding being almost telepathic at times, what looks to be a long-term spell on the sidelines for the centre back is a blow to the Blues, but one that manager Nick Cushing will look to his squad to rectify. Demi Stokes came off the bench to allow Campbell to shift into McManus’ position.
With an hour on the clock, City had notched up eleven attempts on goal to County’s two, with six of those attempts on target. The Blues started to let their dominance show in the second half again, before the physical nature of the game continued, Parris inadvertently catching Whelan in the County box, with what at first seemed like a very nasty knock. A silence grew around Meadow Lane as the spinal board came out, and Whelan was log-rolled on to it, fears abounding that the clash to her neck was incredibly serious. The defender was later seen sat on the bench, however, much to Parris’ relief no doubt; the two are good friends, having known each other from their Everton days.
Two minutes after Whelan left the pitch, City showed no mercy by restoring their four goal advantage, Christiansen firing a thumping shot from twenty yards out past Walsh and into the net. The England midfielder went off five minutes later having put in another dazzling display, and crucially getting almost 80 minutes of gameplay under her belt. If she plays like this for the rest of the season, City’s title credentials will be strong.
What was most pleasing about the Blues’ performance today was how there always seemed to be a player following up for the team; everyone was putting the effort in, singing from the same hymn sheet, and playing some drool-inducing football to boot. Despite being 5-1 up, the commitment from the Blues was still evident, Campbell annoying Clarke with a tough challenge. With five minutes of normal time remaining, Clarke had a chance to salvage some further scoreline respectability for County, but her overhead-kick attempt could only find the roof of the net. City struck back immediately down the other end, with Houghton looking to make amends for conceding the penalty; her sweetly-struck shot was somehow saved by Walsh. To be fair to the Blues captain, apart from the penalty incident, she had had a typically commanding game.
Into the 11 minutes of extra time, Campbell was called upon to utilise her speed and snuff out a County attack, before Bronze was frustratingly booked for what looked like a fair tackle on Clarke. The striker was by far County’s best player, and must have been chagrined to see her side comprehensively beaten in such a fashion. City had a chance to make it six when Ross, in search of her first Blues hat-trick, unselfishly flicked the ball back to Scott, who could only blaze it over the bar. Some lovely play from substitute Middag and Scott in midfield soon after epitomised City’s approach for most of the game; slick, anticipatory, one-touch two-touch. Middag saw the final action of an enthralling game, as her clever lob from Campbell’s throw hit the crossbar. All in all, this was an exemplary performance from City, and one which underlines that they are the team to beat in this WSL title race. County are a decent side, but they were blown away by the Blues’ determination, skill and pace. Sunderland await at home on 31st July… a point ahead of Chelsea, City have to make that extra game in hand count.
My Player of The Match: Stanway. There were so many potential candidates in this game, and she did commit a reckless foul near the end, getting booked for use of an elbow on Buet, but for such a young player – it’s incredible to think she’s only 17 – her touch, skill and composure is breathtaking. Oh, and scoring another fantastic goal helps too. More of the same, please.
Notts County Ladies (4-3-3): Walsh; Buet, Bassett (c), F Whelan (Krantz 71), Turner; Moore, Potter, Crichton (Luik 78); White, Williams (A Whelan 78), Clarke.
Unused subs: James, Hassall
Bookings: Moore, Turner
City Women (4-3-3): Bardsley; Campbell, McManus (Stokes 63), Houghton (c), Bronze; Christiansen (Middag 78), Walsh, Scott; Stanway (Duggan 84), Ross, Parris
Unused subs: Hourihan, Corboz, Tynan, Toone
Bookings: Bronze, Stanway