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Women's Football United continues quest for Champions League qualification

Manchester United 3-0 Tottenham Hotspur
by Adam Millington
at Leigh Sports Village

MANCHESTER UNITED continued their quest for Champions League qualification as goals from Vilde Boe Risa, Hayley Ladd and Leah Galton led them to a 3-0 win at home to fellow high-flyers Tottenham Hotspur yesterday.

Marc Skinner’s Reds were victorious away to Arsenal in midweek and they carried that form into Sunday’s game to extend their winning run to six games in all competitions.

Both of these teams are vying for European games next season, and the sheer dominance of United will be a positive omen for their chances of clinching that coveted third spot.

This game was one of the biggest tests for the Reds, and now it is really only next month’s Manchester derby that will dictate whether or not they manage to realise their ambitions. Neighbours City are playing catch-up after a poor start to the season but are now firing on all cylinders and pose a credible challenge.

From the off it looked as if United would eventually come out on top: they held the majority of the ball and were far more positive than the visitors, who opted to sit back and utilise their steely defence rather than push towards goal.

And while Spurs’ defensive focus did work to an extent and mainly halted the Reds from breaking through, United would manage to find an opener via a corner, where defensive movement cannot as easily stop attacking prowess.

Katie Zelem looped an inswinging ball towards the six-yard box and Boe Risa was in the right place at the right time, bundling the ball past the onlooking Tinja-Riikka Korpela.

The Norwegian midfielder deserved a goal for just how transformational her impact on United has been. The club had been after her signature for quite a while, but they only managed to recruit her in the summer, and she hasn’t been given a run of starts until recently.

Skinner’s decision to start her has been rewarded by the team gaining a player who is adept at finding pockets of space, a skilled passer of the ball and who can play an almost sweeper-like role at the base of midfield.

It only took a further four minutes to create a position where it would be too hard for the visitors to get back into the game.

It was Ladd who was there to notch a second goal, taking advantage of a well-weighted Ella Toone cross to head the ball home. Half time then arrived — but there would be little change after the break.

Spurs somewhat recovered from their first-half setbacks, but a defensive mistake would gift United their third and put the match out of reach.

Mere minutes after she had been brought on, substitute Martha Thomas chipped the ball across the box and Ashleigh Neville should have cleared it. But when she slid in, she did not manage to reach the ball. Korpela had her positioning all wrong and Galton was left with the simplest of tap-ins to seal the victory.

For the Reds this was a performance that shows just how well they can fight against the league’s better sides and augurs well for the rest of the season. For the other Skinner, Rehanne’s Lilywhites, it further highlights how costly inconsistency can be in a league where things are often decided by fine margins.

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