Manchester United Women maintained their unbeaten start to the Women’s Super League season with a battling 1-0 win away at Tottenham Women on Saturday.
It was centre-back Millie Turner who made the difference-maker, heading in from a corner on the 67th minute to settle the match and three points that maintain the Red Devils in 4th place, just 2 points behind 1st place Arsenal and 2nd place Everton. For Spurs, here was a third defeat in their opening four matches and another reason to introduce superstar Alex Morgan to the team; the sooner the better.
Even at the start of the match, there was a sense of anti-climax when the team sheets came out as Morgan’s name was nowhere to be seen. Beyond the neatness of this fixture, broadcast live on both sides of the Atlantic and promising three marquee talents from the United States Women’s National Team, the sense is Morgan is a week away from full match fitness. The visitors kept their end of the deal, starting both Tobin Heath and Christen Press in their front three.
That’s not to say Morgan has not already had an influence on this Spurs side. Every lunch has been spent with a different member of the squad to acquaint herself with her new team-mates, while time in training is not spent solely on her own quest for competitive action, taking the team’s younger forwards under her wing.
Perhaps, then, it should have been no surprise Spurs’ best moments came through adopting Morgan’s traits of harrying the opposition and forcing rather than expecting to get what’s yours. Alas, without the 32-year old’s quality, those moments, ultimately few and far between, came to nothing.
This was always going to be an open game. That’s generally the way it goes between these two. And though the goals are usually skewed United’s way; two should have been shared evenly inside the opening 10 minutes. Katie Zelem could have put the visitors ahead straight out of the gate, free between the penalty spot and six-yard box but unable to contort her body enough to direct her header on target. The better chance fell to Spurs’ Rosella Ayane.
An attempt to play out from the back led to an awry pass from Leah Galton that Ayane was quickest upon. But with the odds and time on her side, she opted for a first-time attempt which rolled wide of the right-hand post. Miss aside, this was a tick that hassling this United side would pay, a tactic Spurs maintained as best they could.
But as the game progressed, United’s dominance grew and should have been confirmed when Heath found herself on the end of a sweeping move from right to left. Played into the left of the box by Press, her effort was kept out by Rebecca Spencer, who was quick enough off her line to cut down the angle.
Spencer would again keep Spurs at bay, this time sprawling high to her right to claw out Zelem’s shot that looked destined for far top corner, having been found 10 yards out by Heath’s neatly disguised pass having feigned a deeper cross. On the 66th minute, Spencer made it a hat-trick of saves, when Alessia Russo decided to ignore Heath to her left and sting a shot at the near post which was clawed behind. However, the resulting corner was whipped in two the back post by Heath where Turner rose highest to head back into the opposite corner.
It was no less than United deserved, and the very least for Heath, who on another day might have bagged a couple, not solely one assist.
She was substituted off on the 75th minute, sitting alongside Press on the bench who had been replaced 20 minutes earlier. Beyond a few shouts of encouragement and derision, both watched on as her side closed out a professional win. Their influences will soon reap great rewards but, for the time being, an accomplished United squad who finished 4th in the WSL (their current position) last year are showing they are more than capable of getting the title if things go as smoothly as now.