Manchester United came from behind to beat an Aston Villa side who lost Kirsty Hanson to a red card in an enthralling match to start to the Women’s Super League season.
Scotland winger Hanson was shown a straight red card for a high tackle on midfielder Hayley Ladd in the second half at Villa Park.
But the hosts took a shock lead minutes later when England’s Rachel Daly drilled into the bottom corner.
Villa’s celebrations were short-lived as United found an immediate response – Spain forward Lucia Garcia pouncing on a loose ball in the box from a corner to make it 1-1.
And United completed the comeback to win the WSL season opener in dramatic fashion when substitute Rachel Williams headed in Nikita Parris’ cross in stoppage time.
Despite defeat, Villa showed their credentials as a side who hope to break up the WSL’s usual top four this season, while United used their squad to great effect and found a way to win.
Alisha Lehmann fired over before the break, and Villa striker Daly hit the crossbar early in the second half with one of their best chances.
Brazilian forward Geyse, United’s summer signing from Barcelona, was a standout performer, causing problems with her pace and forcing a save from debutant Daphne van Domselaar early on, while Parris later stung the fingertips of the Netherlands goalkeeper.
On the whole, it was a hugely entertaining spectacle at Villa Park in front of 12,533 fans – a WSL record crowd for Villa.
Villa show capability but Man Utd depth pays off
Villa enjoyed success at Villa Park against Manchester City on the opening weekend of last season and started strongly again here.
Buoyed by the additions of summer signings Van Domselaar in goal and midfielder Lucy Parker, Villa were well organised and carried a threat.
Hanson, who joined from United in a permanent deal having spent last season on loan at Villa, created the first real opening when she raced away on the left and picked out Lehmann, only for Lucy Staniforth’s eventual strike to be saved by England goalkeeper Mary Earps.
The Villa winger was in tears as she left the field following her sending off, no doubt fearing the worst for her team-mates against a United side who were starting to build momentum.
United took control of the midfield in the first half and Geyse was a constant threat, using her pace to get in behind Villa’s defence.
It was the Brazilian who had United’s first big opportunity as she took down a long pass from Millie Turner but was denied by a smart save from Van Domselaar.
Geyse continued to combine nicely with team-mates Leah Galton and Garcia to create further chances as United’s momentum built as the half wore on.
Lehmann missed a golden opportunity when she fizzed it over the bar but Daly – last season’s WSL Player of the Year – was an isolated figure up front on the whole.
However, changes at the break helped Villa impose themselves more. Ebony Salmon, returning to the club this summer, made an impact and teed up Daly to clip the crossbar.
Villa showed character and resilience when they took a shock lead after Hanson’s sending off but United – who have strengthened their squad in the transfer window – were able to introduce Parris and Williams, who both made a difference.
Hosts Villa will feel they missed an opportunity to lay a glove on United’s title challenge but it was a display which will give hope to plenty following them this season.
Aston Villa Women
- 1van Domselaar
- 6CorsieBooked at 26mins
- 15ParkerBooked at 14minsSubstituted forNobbsat 90+6′minutes
- 7LehmannSubstituted forLeonat 66′minutesBooked at 83mins
- 19Blindkilde BrownSubstituted forSalmonat 45′minutes
- 20HansonBooked at 74mins
Man Utd Women
- 4Le Tissier
- 12LaddSubstituted forMiyazawaat 80′minutes
- 17GarcíaBooked at 90mins
- 7TooneBooked at 43mins
- 11GaltonSubstituted forParrisat 70′minutes
- 23da Silva FerreiraBooked at 33minsSubstituted forWilliamsat 66′minutes
- Rebecca Welch
Match ends, Aston Villa Women 1, Manchester United Women 2.
Second Half ends, Aston Villa Women 1, Manchester United Women 2.
Lucía García (Manchester United Women) is shown the yellow card.
Corner, Aston Villa Women. Conceded by Gabrielle George.
Corner, Aston Villa Women. Conceded by Gabrielle George.
Substitution, Aston Villa Women. Jordan Nobbs replaces Lucy Parker.
Goal! Aston Villa Women 1, Manchester United Women 2. Rachel Williams (Manchester United Women) header from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner.
Attempt saved. Hinata Miyazawa (Manchester United Women) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Lucía García.
Attempt blocked. Lucía García (Manchester United Women) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked.
Attempt blocked. Millie Turner (Manchester United Women) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Attempt saved. Katie Zelem (Manchester United Women) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the top right corner. Assisted by Nikita Parris.
Corner, Manchester United Women. Conceded by Daphne van Domselaar.
Attempt saved. Nikita Parris (Manchester United Women) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Ella Toone.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Adriana Leon (Aston Villa Women) is shown the yellow card.
Delay in match because of an injury Lucy Parker (Aston Villa Women).
Foul by Rachel Williams (Manchester United Women).
Rachel Daly (Aston Villa Women) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt blocked. Rachel Williams (Manchester United Women) left footed shot from the left side of the six yard box is blocked. Assisted by Lucía García.
Corner, Manchester United Women. Conceded by Rachel Corsie.