Manchester United Women maintained their unbeaten start to the Women’s Super League season with a battling 1-0 win away at Tottenham Hotspur Women on Saturday.
Despite talk of star attacking talents, it was centre-back Millie Turner who would be the difference-maker, heading in from a corner on 67 minutes to settle the match and three points that, for the moment at least, take United top. For Spurs, here was a third defeat in their opening four matches and another reason why the sooner they can introduce superstar Alex Morgan to the fray, the better.
There was a sense of anti-climax when the teamsheets came out and 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 a front three.
That is not to say Morgan has not already had an influence on this Spurs side. Every lunch is 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 as she takes 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 creating rather than expecting openings. Alas, without the 32-year old’s quality, those moments, ultimately few and far between, came to nothing.
This was always going to be open, that’s generally the way it goes between these two. And though the goals are usually skewed United’s way – they’ve won all four of their games against Spurs by at least three goals – 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 the six-yard box but unable to contort her body enough to direct her header on target. But 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 dividends, which Spurs maintained as best they could.
But as the half 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 66 minutes, Spencer would make 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 – maybe a day not too far away as she gets fully up to speed – might have bagged a couple, not solely one assist.
She was substituted off on 75 minutes, sitting alongside Press on the bench who had been replaced 20 minutes earlier and, beyond a few shouts of encouragement and derision, watched on as her side closed out a professional win.