A stunning chipped effort from Caroline Weir was the cherry on top for Manchester City as a 3-0 derby win over Manchester United pulled them ahead of their city rivals and to within two points of Women’s Super League leaders Chelsea.
Goals in either half from Lucy Bronze and then Lauren Hemp had put a City, who did not at any point look ruffled by a dogged but tiring United press, deservedly in the driving seat before Weir caught Mary Earps off her line.
After an unbeaten run which stretched into January, United have lost twice in their last four games. The first was not altogether unexpected, a 2-1 defeat away at champions Chelsea. The second, though, last Sunday, was a shock 2-0 loss at home to Reading. That defeat meant City could play catch up and a 2-1 win against Arsenal ensured Gareth Taylor’s team pulled to within two points of United with a game in hand.
The momentum had shifted, literally and psychologically. City had won six league games in a row, the last that morale boosting win against Arsenal, before welcoming United to the Academy stadium on a chilly Friday night. Meanwhile, United, having relinquished their berth at the top of the table to Chelsea, had opened the gates on what had increasingly looked like a two-horse title race.
They have a hefty injury list which, while Casey Stoney has been at pains to not use as an excuse, is growing. The loss of star winger Leah Galton, the Barclays player of the month for December, late in the first half at the Academy stadium was a bigger blow as a result. United are already without young talent Lauren James, England midfielder Lucy Staniforth, forward Alessia Russo, full-back Kirsty Smith and influential World Cup winner Tobin Heath.
After a cagey start, it would be City who would look the more comfortable and in the 23rd minute they had the edge. Again, United conceded from a set piece, with both Reading goals at the weekend having started with dead balls. A corner was weakly headed into the air at the near post by former Chelsea defender Maria Thorisdottir and it landed kindly for the Best Fifa player of the year, Bronze, who lashed past England keeper Mary
It was an unconventional source but speaks to the current confidence pulsing through City from front to back that has seen them score 25 goals in their last five home fixtures.
United had chances to level things, with Hayley Ladd going closest in the first half, but she would skew her shot narrowly wide after Galton had missed Katie Zelem’s cross at the near post. US international forward Christen Press twice went close in a brief resurgence from United around the hour mark. That would be snuffed out by City’s second though. Chloe Kelly, who had provided eight assists in her last five games, smacked a shot which was parried by Earps into the path of Hemp who hit it first time and it spun in taking a defection off Amy Turner’s head on the way in.
Turning the screw, a poor clearance from Press allowed Weir, the former Puskas goal of the year nominee, to twist on the edge of the box and spin a chipped effort over an at-sea Earps and in.