The first Manchester derby of the 2022/23 Barclays Women’s Super League season is just days away…
City v United – one of the most hotly anticipated fixtures in the calendar – has stirred up some classic encounters in recent years.
With the two sides locking horns at the Etihad Stadium, the next chapter in the saga promises to be just as captivating.
In the build-up to Sunday 11 December’s showdown, we have taken a look back at some of the memorable clashes between the two sides since the initial professional derby back in September 2019.
The final chapter of the series takes us right back to the start of our professional rivalry, when a record crowd witnessed a moment of magic at the Etihad Stadium.
“We knew there were a lot of tickets sold for the game.”
Steph Houghton’s eyes light up when asked for her memories of our first professional derby against Manchester United back in 2019.
“We all went over to the stadium a couple of days before to get some familiarity with where we’d be on matchday.
“You then as a player start thinking about what will happen. But then that moment when you’re warming up and the crowd are cheering you and shouting your name is special.
“And when Caroline Weir scored, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a noise like it.”
More on THAT goal later, but the captain’s reflections on the build-up to the opening day of the 2019/20 WSL campaign demonstrate the attention around our first fixture of the campaign.
It was the start of a new era for women’s football, with one of the English game’s most iconic and keenly fought rivalries being brought to the professional stage for the first time.
Looking to build on a campaign which had yielded success in both domestic cups and a second-placed league finish, City came into the new season with lofty ambitions befitting the setting of our curtain-raiser against Manchester United.
However, victory was far from a foregone conclusion.
The visitors, promoted to the top-flight in their first season since a successful application into the Women’s Championship in 2018, had lost just once en route to the title.
Bolstered by the signings of England duo Mary Earps and Abbie McManus [a former blue], not to mention 2017 World Cup runner-up Jackie Groenen, the quality and experience in Casey Stoney’s visiting side belied their status as WSL novices.
All of the early signs indicated that this would be a watershed moment, both in the context of women’s football in Manchester and, more specifically, in the rivalry between City and United.
That fact certainly wasn’t lost on manager Nick Cushing or his players.
“Everybody wants to come out as the winner, whether it’s the players, the staff or the fans,” he explained ahead of kick-off.
“There’s a huge desire to make sure that locally we’re not only the winner but the best team in the area.
“There are families split across two clubs, close friends, school friends, work colleagues. The rivalry is so ingrained and goes on for so many years.
“The derby means a hell of a lot to the fans, and we have to work so hard to not only entertain our fans but work hard to win the game for them.”
A crowd of 31,213 – a record for a City women’s match which remains to this day - made their way into the Etihad Stadium to see who would come out on top.
It blew the previous highest attendance in the league – standing at 5,265 – out of the water. All that was needed now was for the spectacle on the pitch to replicate its counterpart on the terraces.
Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession at the Etihad, Nick Cushing’s side found United a tough nut to crack.
And it was the visitors who went closest to breaking the deadlock in the early exchanges, with the first real chance coming from a familiar face.
Jane Ross had found the net 25 times in 61 appearances across a three-year period at City before joining West Ham United in 2018.
One year later, she was lining up for the red half of Manchester in the derby, and almost came back to haunt her former employers on her United debut when a sweeping ball in from Leah Galton found her unmarked in the six-yard box.
Meeting the cross in her stride and side footing towards goal, the opener looked inevitable.
Step forward 19-year-old stopper, Ellie Roebuck.
“For Ellie to pull off a save like that in probably one of the biggest games of her career at that moment in time, just showed what an unbelievable ‘keeper she was going to be," Houghton remembers.
“She’s proven that ever since.”
Moving across her goal in line with the cross, the goalkeeper showed incredible reaction speed to change direction and parry Ross’ effort away from danger.
It was the wakeup call that City needed, as Weir tested Earps with a stinging drive later in the half.
Work to do after the break, then. But Nick Cushing’s side got the dream start to the second 45 that we were after.
On 48 minutes, United skipper Katie Zelem attempted a pass down the hosts’ left flank which was cut out by Weir.
Knocking the ball into the space in front of her, a short option to Jill Scott was available, or a quick pass into Georgia Stanway with her back to goal on the edge of the box.
A deeper cross into Tessa Wullaert, alert at the far post, was also on the cards for the midfielder, but she ignored all of those options.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Houghton beams when describing the shot that Weir rifled into the top corner of Earps’ net from all of 25 yards.
“I was stood right behind it. It was a really impressive strike.”
It was a moment of true quality befitting the occasion and one that would even be shortlisted for the 2020 FIFA Puskas Awards - which recognises the most aesthetically significant, or "most beautiful", goal of the calendar year.
Ultimately, it would prove to be the winning goal in the first professional women’s derby, but City had to ride our luck.
Stealing a yard on defender Gemma Bonner, Dutch international Groenen looked destined to level the scores late on as she raced in on goal.
But after losing the ball under her feet – under pressure from Houghton – it looked like the chance had gone begging. That was until the attempted clearance ricocheted off her and onto the foot of the post.
As demonstrated by that close call, it was a nervy final few minutes for a City side that could see a memorable three points tantalisingly waiting on the horizon.
When the final whistle sounded, the mixture of ecstasy and relief was etched on each of the players’ faces.
For Houghton, it was the culmination of weeks of hard work leading up to the occasion.
“I think that feeling at the final whistle, to be able to lead the team to a victory at the Etihad in front of that many fans was unbelievable.
“Everyone talks about the day but it was all about the build-up, how hard we worked in the week to get that performance and that win.
“Sometimes the game doesn’t go the way you want it to go, we were under pressure at some points but that relief at the final whistle was huge.
“To come away with three points and produce on the first game of the season was amazing.”
By George Kelsey
CITY V UNITED: ETIHAD DERBY
City welcome Manchester United to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday 11 December.
Kick-off is scheduled for 12:30 (UK), with tickets selling fast for our third-ever women's match at the Etihad.
We hosted Everton there back in May 2014, before welcoming our local rivals in September 2019, when Caroline Weir’s wonder strike saw us run out 1-0 winners in front of what was then a WSL record crowd, and what remains a club record of 31, 213 fans.
With over 40,000 tickets already snapped up, it promises to be another historic occasion.
You can secure your tickets online by visiting: www.mancity.com/tickets/womens or by calling: +44 (0)161 444 1894.