Man City 1 Man United 1: Midfielder Coombs to the rescue for hosts

The Sky Blues were forced to come from behind against second-placed United but it hasn’t dented their WSL title belief, writes Um-E-Aymen Babar.

Image: Um-E-Aymen Babar

Manchester City boss Gareth Taylor insists his side are still confident that they can win the WSL title despite seeing their six-game winning run end in a derby draw with bitter rivals Manchester United.

The home side had better possession in the first half and two shots on target, but it was the Red Devils’ Leah Galton that managed to find the opener in the 27th minute. City fought back early in the second half as Player of the Match Laura Coombs rescued a point with her header from six yards out in front of a crowd of 44,259 at the Etihad — a women’s team record at the stadium.

There was late drama as the visitors appealed for a penalty for handball against Alex Greenwood after she blocked Lucia Garcia’s shot, but United’s wait for a first top-flight win over their rivals continues.

Taylor praised captain Greenwood’s vital block and insisted a draw was a “fair result” after his team improved their second-half performance to earn what could be a valuable point in the title race.

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Although the result leaves City trailing third-placed United by three points one place back in fourth on 19 points and leaders Chelsea by eight points, the manager’s confident they can still finish top by mounting another impressive winning running in the new year.

He added: “Once we got our build-up play right, we really improved in the second half and certainly after we scored, albeit from United coming and putting us under pressure. I still felt like we were more likely to get good opportunities. I think both goalkeepers made really good saves.

“They’re a tough team and have some good players and are good with their set plays, which I think we dealt with really well today. I spoke to the players at half-time and said we needed to tweak our movement and we got that better in the second half. We weren’t flawless but we were a lot better in the second half.

“It’s so difficult to be critical of both teams today because it’s a new environment. A lot of the United players wouldn’t have played here previously, and our girls haven’t been here previously either. It felt like a cup final and certainly with the crowd it felt like a different game, it didn’t feel like a WSL game. Hopefully, it has been a good advertisement for women’s football.

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“We want to win the league. We win all our games in the second half of the season and we can win the league. We’ve put ourselves in a position, but there’s a lot of hard work to do.”

Speaking about United’s penalty claim, Taylor added: “It’s hard for me to know. We probably should’ve dealt with the play a little bit better than we did. We gave them an opportunity, but Alex looked to me to make a really important interception and block.”

In the first few minutes of the game, City had an early opportunity when Greenwood won a free-kick in a dangerous area, but she struggled to get it past United’s defensive wall and Millie Turner headed it clear.

United turned up the heat in the 27th minute when Galton opened the scoring after breezing past her marker, playing a neat one-two with Toone and then hitting the back of the net with a shot that deflected off Greenwood.

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City were put under pressure as Deyna Castellanos struck from the edge of the box in the 38th minute but Mary Earps was quick to get across her line and the ball landed comfortably in her hands. The hosts found themselves increasingly hemmed in and unable to string consistent attacks together in the first half as their key players Chloe Kelly, Bunny Shaw and Lauren Hemp struggled to create chances or test the United defence.

After half-time, the furious and ferocious pace of the derby continued with the Citizens determined to get back in the game. They finally made the breakthrough in the 58th minute as Coombs headed home the crucial equaliser. Kelly’s cross went over Turner’s head but was met by the unmarked midfielder, 31, who’s enjoying a remarkable renaissance this season.

United star Ella Toone also hit the ball over the bar before City goalie Ellie Roebuck made an incredible save from Martha Thomas’ header. Neither team wanted the game to end in a draw as they battled for a winner, forcing last-gasp saves from keeper Earps and her counterpart, however the deadlock could not be broken as City maintained their unbeaten record against their old foes.

United were unchanged from the team that beat Aston Villa 5-0 last weekend and although they were disappointed to not claim the three points here, boss Marc Skinner admits he’s greatly encouraged by their newfound mental strength.

The boss also gave credit to their supporters in the passionate 44,259 crowd — the second largest in WSL history — for being their driving force this season.

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Skinner said: “I think there’s a change in this game. We’re frustrated with the result but not the performance. This is a mentality change for our group. They’re very disappointed that they’ve not taken the win. It’s a really great mentality shift. The result is probably the most negative thing from it but the mentality is only going to serve us well in the future.

“We’ve still got lots to work on and work to do. We will continue to evolve this team. Honestly, as a coach, it is the most pleasing thing to see them taking on responsibility, showing their personality. Our fans are the best in the country. We see them, we feel them, we hear them. At times you could only hear our fans, especially as we quietened the City crowd.”

City now face a League Cup clash with rock-bottom Leicester City next Saturday, while United take on Championship side Sheffield United on the Sunday. They return to league action next month and with a top-of-the-table clash between Chelsea and second-placed Arsenal to come immediately after the break, there are plenty of twists ahead in 2023.

Follow Aymen on Twitter @ItsUmeAymen

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