Often in recent seasons, it’s seemed that the followers of FC United’s women’s team have turned up on a Sunday looking for something to lift the spirits after a disappointing result for their male counterparts on the Saturday.
However recent weeks have seen the women picking up the challenge to ‘follow that’, as was definitely the case the day following Neil Reynolds’ side’s impressive 5-1 win at Hyde.
While the margin and manner of victory couldn’t match that at Ewen Fields, the women were called on to show the resilience they’ve become noted for this season to make it a weekend win double for the club’s two senior teams even though the fans were kept waiting until ten minutes from time for Jordon Bailey to score the goal that proved to be the decider, preserving the team’s unbeaten league record (100% at home) and taking them to within two points of leaders Tranmere Rovers with three games in hand.
The indication from the opening few minutes was that the fans wouldn’t have to wait long for the first goal. Not long after kick off, FC earned a corner that was cleared downfield for Freya Millener to lead a break down the left. The Reds were somewhat fortunate that a pass into the area struck Kate O’Gara and bounced kindly for Fran Davies to tidy up by passing back to keeper Chloe Ainsworth to clear.
It wasn’t long though before FC were threatening at the other end. An impressive passing move ended with Cara Fields sending a low ball in from the right. Kaylea Cunliffe collided with Wigan keeper Beth Powney as both attempted to get to the ball first. However FC no, 9 Cunliffe was soon back on her feet to put the ball out wide for Kirsty Chambers to cut into the area on the left. Finding no shooting angle, the Reds’ skipper sent the ball across for Cunliffe to race onto but put a header just wide. Just before the quarter hour, Wigan almost took the lead as Millener again found space down the left then played a ball inside to Eleanor Threlkeld who touched it on for Victoria Fraser to thunder a shot that bounced off the crossbar. With FC struggling to clear their lines, Millener shot wide on the follow up.
Natalie Richardson, making her debut for FC United after signing from Coventry United, started to make her mark on the game. Firstly by showing great control to bring down a long ball before firing a shot over on the run. Then, shortly after sending over a dangerous cross that was hastily cleared by Fraser with Jordon Bailey charging in, FC’s new girl tried her luck from distance with a right-footed shot just wide of the keeper’s right hand post.
Chambers played a ball in from the left that had FC appealing for handball as the ball struck Wigan’s Ellie Brown. However an offside flag had been raised against FC’s captain in the buildup. Undeterred, Chambers then beat two defenders on a run down the inside left channel to get in a short but not with enough power to trouble Powney in goal, who saved comfortably.
FC’s best chance of the half came as the clocked ticked over into injury time. Bailey got in a cross from the right on the end of another good passing move. The ball came to Cunliffe around waist height but she met it on the volley forcing Powney to make a very good save.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first with early chances at both ends. Something of a scramble in the Wigan box saw Bailey forced to improvise by lobbing the keeper from close range. The situation was rescued for the visitors by skipper Becky Lea heading off the line with some on the field and in the stands believing the ball might have crossed the line. However neither the referee nor linesman were among them, and play was waved on.
Within moments, FC had a somewhat lucky escape of their own as a mis-cued pass from Fields let in Fraser on the left side of the area who opted to shoot early with only the keeper to beat, but she was denied by Chloe Ainsworth getting down well to her left to parry the ball away.
Fraser was again quick to pounce on uncertainty in the FC United midfield, picking up a loose ball but sent a shot on the run high and wide.
FC United manager Kamran Hussein introduced the fresh legs of Caitlin Clancy and Robyn Hartley into the game. The Reds had another chance to open the scoring when Cunliffe tried her luck from outside the box. Powney, having an impressive game, almost blotted her copybook by spilling the shot but recovered to grab the ball at the second attempt.
Richardson then shrugged off the attentions of a defender and, despite the tightness of space on the byline, dug out a cross from the right side of the area that saw Bailey and keeper Powney collide in going for the ball as it flew untouched across the goalmouth.
Just before the 75-minute mark, Wigan were awarded a free kick in the FC half that seemed no real threat until Wigan midfielder Chelsea Wharton let fly and Ainsworth reacted superbly to turn it over the bar. And there were similar heroics just moments later from her Wigan counterpart Powney who denied Bailey in a one-on-one situation after the FC front-runner had outpaced a defender to reach a long ball.
A corner led to a scramble in the FC United goalmouth. Threlkeld bundled the ball into the net but the referee ruled no goal due to a foul on keeper Ainsworth.
With just 10 minutes remaining, and the game seemingly heading for what would be a first ever 0-0 draw for FC United’s women’s team, the deadlock was broken. Fields sent a ball into the area from the right and the most crucial part of the move was Cunliffe allowing the ball to pass through her legs to the unmarked Bailey who, finding herself one-on-one against Powney for a second time, placed her shot to the right of the keeper to give FC United a crucial late lead.
However just three minutes later, FC and their supporters were breathing a huge sigh of relief as Fraser sent the ball across from the left. Wigan substitute Tamara Hamer sent in a looping shot from the edge of the area which was fumbled by Ainsworth who managed to retrieve the situation by grabbing the ball as it bounced behind her.
Chambers looked to make the game safe, twisting and turning on the right of the area to get a shooting angle before letting fly left-footed but Powney again was well placed to save. However there was a worrying outcome to FC’s next attack as Bailey once again found herself in collision with Beth Powney after pouncing on a defensive mix up. This time though, the FC number 10 was unable to continue after treatment and left the field with a knee injury. This left FC to play the last three minutes plus the six added on with only ten players as no further substitutes were available.
It seemed inevitable therefore that Wigan would get at least one chance to rescue a point that few could have argued that they deserved. It came after a scramble in the FC area saw the ball break loose for Wharton to try her luck again from outside the area but Ainsworth made a comfortable save.
In the end, it was a hard fought win for FC United in a game where they had far from everything their own way. Although the home side were well rewarded for their discipline and persistence, Wigan are probably entitled to feel hard done by to have come away with nothing after a performance that made a mockery of their current modest mid-table league placing.
FC Women return to action on Sunday January 12th, continuing their defence of the Argyle Cup with a visit from Northwich Vixens. The game kicks off at 2pm on the 3G at Broadhurst Park and a week later we are back in the stadium against Fleetwood Town in the league. Get yourselves to our football grounds.
Report by Phil Bradbury
FC Player of the game: Kate O’Gara - pressed into a more defensive role due to the absence of Chelsea Patient but stuck to her duties well to break up some threatening moves from the visitors.
Teams 5th January 2020: Attendance: 75
FC United of Manchester Women: 1 (0)
1. Chloe Ainsworth
2. Fran Davies
12. Katie Sorenson
20. Kate O’Gara
23. Beth Hayes
6. Cara Fields
25. Natalie Richardson
8. Maxine Smith
9. Kaylea Cunliffe
10. Jordon Bailey (Goal, 80 minutes)
11. Kirsty Chambers (Capt)
22. Caitlin Clancy (for No8, 58 minutes)
16. Robyn Hartley (for No23, 63 minutes)
Wigan Athletic Ladies 0 (0)
1. Beth Powney
2. Victoria Johnson
3. Becky Lea (Capt)
4. Chelsea Wharton
5. Chelsea Bloor
6. Flossie Jones
7. Ellie Brown
8. Aimee Beach
9. Freya Millener
10. Eleanor Threlkeld
11. Victoria Fraser
14. Tamara Hamer (for No9, 50 minutes)
12. Georgia Atherton
15. Anacia Leyland
(for No7 & No8, 81 minutes)
Referee: Gordon Weir
Venue: Broadhurst Park
Official FC photography: Mark Lee & Sam Coates