A record crowd for a Barclays FA Women’s Super League fixture witnessed an exceptionally high standard of play in a tight Manchester derby encounter at the Etihad Stadium. The game was won with an outstanding strike from City’s Scottish midfielder Caroline Weir – a goal that you could watch over and over and not tire of seeing, unless you’re of the red persuasion – but United created chances, particularly in a strong first half showing, which promises exciting things for both the newcomers and for the overall competitiveness of the league campaign ahead.
(Reporting by Catherine Etoe & Jen O’Neill)
Here’s the reaction from some of the key figures in this afternoon’s action:
NICK CUSHING, Manager, Manchester City
On the slower first half performance:
It was a case of not being in our rhythm. Today there was a bit of added extra with the occasion and the derby, so yeah the objective was to win and we’re really pleased to have won. There were some slight things that we know we allow teams into the game if we don’t retain the ball – we want to play expansive and play good football – but if you don’t retain the ball then you’ll give opportunities for counter-attacks and opportunities for teams to score. I felt we weren’t at our level. Whether it was the first game of the season or whether it was the hangover from the international break or the occasion, our level wasn’t as high as it could have been but for the second half, for the 25 minutes at the start, I thought we really showed our level and how we can push a team back and dominate a team and create chances.
On Caroline Weir and her terrific goal:
We’re pushing Caroline hard because she shows that in training and I know that’s a cliche but she’s got incredible ability, she can be world class offensively. She’s got good vision, she’s got really high technical ability and she sees things that other players don’t see but she has to turn that into performances on a match day and she’s done that today. But we work her hard because I think she can contribute offensively for us and really dictate the game.
On doing it in front of 31,000:
Yeah, this team has had the opportunity to play in front of 45,000 twice at Wembley and 25,000 at Lyon in the Champions League semi-finals but to play in our home stadium and in front of 29,000 Manchester City fans, we’re just really pleased to have repaid therewith a win.
On United having chances and how impressed he was by them:
I was impressed but I expected their level to be high, not only because they’re Manchester United and they’ve signed some good players in the summer and improved the players they have retained but also because I know Casey’s standards. She’s got incredibly high standards, just look at what she achieved in her playing career. I expected the game to be tight because they are a terrific team.
On the competitive nature of the league:
I think the players get sick of me saying it, but every year it gets harder and harder to win. Every team is improving, whether it be Manchester United or Tottenham or West Ham or Brighton, Everton, Liverpool… those days where it was ourselves and Chelsea fighting at the top of the league in 2015 and 2016 have gone. This year I really believe it will be the most competitive WSL season and we’re excited for that because it can only grow the game.
On Ellie Roebuck’s save in the first half:
Yeah, we put a huge responsibility on all of our players to produce in the moments they need to produce and if you look at KB (Karen Bardsley) in the FA Cup final, Jane Ross had a chance against KB in that game at 0-0 and we went in at half-time and went on to win the game 3-0 and today was no different. The first save is a huge save because it’s from four yards and the ability to get across the goal and stopping it going in the goal shows Ellie’s class and potential. We know Ellie’s potential and we just need to keep working with her, our goalkeeping coach will keep pushing her hard. She’s got good potential but we just need to make sure we keep improving her.
On players’ fitness for Champions League action in midweek:
People will have seen Lauren Hemp has picked up a shoulder injury, so she won’t be available but it’s only a small thing and we expect her to be back in 7-10 days.
CAROLINE WEIR, Manchester City midfielder
On her match-winning goal:
I just remember picking the ball up on the edge of the box, had a little space and decided to have a shot so obviously delighted it went in, they don’t always go in.
On whether she had scored a better goal:
I don’t think so, not that I can remember right now. As I say delighted to get on the scoresheet, delighted to get the three points as well.
On not putting away the chances for a more emphatic scoreline:
I think that’s something we’ll look at we need to be a bit more clinical but overall we’re happy to get the three points. It was never going to be an easy game so we are delighted to start the season off with a win.
On what it was like playing a Manchester derby in front of so many fans:
It was huge, a great occasion ,a privilege to be a part of a bit of history. The girls really enjoyed it, it was obviously a tough match. We’d like to thank the supporters for coming out in their numbers and showing us the support.
On if she’d like to play more games at the Etihad:
Definitely, I think it was a great day for the team and the club as well. We are part of such a massive club with a great fanbase here and it just shows, with 31,000 people, that people do want to come and watch. It’s huge for the team and for women’s football, it’s great to see and great for the league and it’s just the start of the season so hopefully we can carry on the momentum.
On whether it felt almost like a neutral venue:
I don’t think we think about that too much. Whether it’s the Academy Stadium or the Etihad, it’s City, it’s one club. Of course it’s great to play at the Etihad, but we tried not to focus too much on the occasion, we knew we had a job to do and it’s great to see crowds like that. They helped us in the second half when we were not playing at our best but going forward it would be great to play more games at the Etihad.
On it being a friendly derby:
It didn’t feel too friendly as a player. We all know each other quite well, players from both teams. So yeah, I don’t know if it felt friendly for other people but it didn’t as a player. A Manchester derby is just that, whether it’s men or women. We needed that win and we came out with that win in the end.
On the impact of the World Cup:
It’s a great moment for women’s football coming off the back of such a successful World Cup for the game. Seeing crowds like that, it’s all about the momentum and I think it is a turning point for women’s football. People really are getting behind it and it’s great to be a part of it as a player and make a bit of history today. It’s just about pushing on.
Jackie Groenen, Manchester United midfielder
We showed that we can compete in this league. I think we need to get a bit more clinical, we created some really good chances. We did really well in the first half, struggled a bit in the second half but we came out really well a couple of times.