In the toughest examination of their title credentials so far, United made it five wins from five with a narrow 3-2 victory over Altrincham at Carrington on Sunday.
This early October fixture, bathed in warm sunshine more akin to the middle of August, was always going to prove difficult with the hosts having won three of their first four games. After the abandonment of last season’s corresponding fixture with the scores at 1-1, due to an injury to the home keeper, there was an air of unfinished business about this latest clash.
United took the lead through Chloe Wild with Jess Hartopp drawing the home side level before debutant Nicole Hatcliffe restored a deserved lead going into the break. Allisha Marsh gave United a perfect start to the second half extending the lead to 3-1 before Altrincham rallied in the latter stages pulling one back in the last 10 minutes through Jade Hesketh with the reds nervously holding on to seal the three points and maintain their perfect start to the season.
In a breathless opening 30 seconds, FC kicked off and a great ball down the left from Abbie Carrington released Jade Parker who crossed for Chloe Wild with the Altrincham defence clearing for a corner. Wild whipped in the set piece which was well defended as the home side moved forward themselves ultimately earning a corner of their own. United’s defence dealt with the immediate threat forcing Laura Kelly to rush her shot which cleared Chloe Williams’ cross bar by some distance.
With international clearance from the US finally processed, striker Nicole Hatcliffe became eligible to make her debut up front today and she linked well with the excellent Allisha Marsh, particularly in the first half. Inside 10 minutes Hatcliffe played in Marsh down the left as the winger drove towards goal with her shot finding the side netting.
On the quarter hour, Jade Parker controlled a pass flicked the ball up and volleyed speculatively from 25 yards with Altrincham’s keeper, Lizzie Brereton catching well underneath her cross bar. A minute later Parker released Marsh who drove her shot just wide once again and Olivia Greenhalgh tested Brereton from range in the next passage of play closely followed by a chance at close quarters for Hatcliffe who forced Brereton into a superb point blank stop.
Despite the end to end opening and the resilience of both defences, as the half approached it’s mid- point the deadlock was finally broken with FC United seizing the initiative in a well balanced contest. Wild picked up the ball on half way wide right and cut in field driving incisively towards the penalty area feeding the ball to Hatcliffe whose strength left her defender on the ground as the striker fired the ball across the six yard area where Wild rushed in at the back post to fire high into the roof of the net.
Looking for a swift reply the home side enjoyed a positive spell with the dangerous Kelly breaking through the FC defence but the pace and recovery attributes of Fran Davies and Chelsea Patient thwarted the home striker. As Altrincham continued to press excellent defending by Jess McCarrick and Patient saw the Captain release Mia Holden who crafted a pass to Parker who controlled superbly and fired past Brereton only for effort to be ruled off side. The home pressure finally paid dividends as they exploited gaps in midfield to play Jess Hartopp through on goal firing early and true beyond the dive of Williams to equalise on 35 minutes.
United reacted well, looking to restore their lead with Greenhalgh and Parker forcing saves from Brereton but as the half entered added time Parker beat the offside trap slid a short pass into the path of Marsh who took the ball to the bye line crossing beyond the back post where Hatcliffe arrived to score on her debut finding the roof of the net taking United into the break with a slender lead.
Following the break, Altrincham earned an early free kick on the right flank and as the ball was swept into the danger area, McCarrick produced a vital defensive header with the ball breaking to Greenhalgh to spring defence into attack; the midfielder slid her pass inside the Altrincham full back in the sure knowledge that Marsh’s pace would see the winger in behind the defence and through on goal. Sure enough, Marsh obliged, shooting across Brereton to give United a two goal cushion with the half only three minutes old.
Controlling possession from back to front, Carrington found Davies who passed forward to Holden helping the ball onto Parker freeing Wild to strike on goal forcing Brereton into a fine one handed tip over the bar. Altrincham tightened up and rebutted United with legal aggression on several occasions always looking to force an opening themselves but the reds kept their composure and continued to press forward when the opportunities arose. Substitute Shellby Wolstencroft earned and took a free kick from near the right corner flag and Brereton rose to punch away from danger.
With quarter of an hour left, Marsh demonstrated silky skills on the left to produce a cross for Charlie Evans, on just a minute earlier, to see her effort loop off a defender and into the grateful arms of Brereton.
With just five minutes of normal time left, Altrincham set up a grandstand finish curling a free kick in from the right with the ball breaking kindly to substitute Jade Hesketh who half volleyed low and hard across Williams and into the bottom corner from 15 yards.
They say the best form of defence is attack and United looked to secure all three points with Wolstencroft forcing Brereton into yet another good save. Altrincham however sensed they could retrieve something from the contest and in the fourth minute of added time Davies had to be at her very best to clear up a dangerous foray deep in United territory.
The hosts were not done and full back Kyesha Brown overlapped down the left with United’s defence outnumbered and she lofted a long range shot on target destined for the top corner but Williams rose superbly plucking the ball out of the air and drawing a collective sigh of relief from the FC contingent on and off the pitch. Williams cleared high and long as the referee brought an absorbing contest to an end with FC United’s perfect start still intact.
Next Sunday FC’s Women travel to the North East to face Norton & Stockton Ancients in the FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round. Six years to the date since the Men travelled the same route, the Women will be hoping to emulate or better that famous 5-2 victory.
Report by Rob Fullen
FC Player of the game: Chelsea Patient
– Showed leadership throughout in a tough examination of United’s defence which collectively had an excellent game.
Teams 2nd October 2016: Attendance: 79
FC United of Manchester Women: 3
1. Chloe Williams
17. Jess McCarrick
2. Fran Davies
5. Chelsea Patient (Capt)
3. Abbie Carrington
4. Olivia Greenhalgh
6. Mia Holden
15. Jade Parker
14. Allisha Marsh (Goal 48 mins)
11. Chloe Wild (Goal 20 mins)
10. Nicole Hatcliffe (Goal 45+1 mins)
8. Adora Yau (not used)
9. Shellby Wolstencroft (for No 11 61 mins)
12. Olivia Gannon (not used)
16. Charlie Evans (for No10 74 mins)
18. Beth Scholey (for No4 67 mins)
Altrincham Ladies: 2
1. Lizzie Brereton
2. Kyesha Brown
18. Lucy Smith
14. Megan Wright
5. Louise Edleston
16. Bliss Molyneaux
7. Jess Hartopp
8. Gail Simpson
9. Laura Kelly
10. Laura Dodds
11. Georgia Plant
3. Heather Scott (not used)
6. Judy Hewson (not used)
15. Jade Hesketh (for No 9 80 mins & Goal 85 mins)
23. Brogan Walsh (for No14 72mins)
Referee: Andrew Worthington
Asst Ref: Daniel Adelman
Asst Ref: Not known
Venue: Mersey Valley Sports Club, Banky Lane, Sale, M33 5SL