Match Report

City edge Everton in close FA WSL encounter

GROUP HUG: Steph Houghton is mobbed after her match winning goal.
Sun 29 Sep
Stephanie Houghton 
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A Steph Houghton free-kick ensured City's unbeaten start in the FA WSL continued with a hard fought 1-0 win over Everton.

The skipper netted early on with a precise finish to give Nick Cushing’s side their third win of the league campaign, but it required a resilient performance against the Toffees in testing conditions.

City created enough chances to record a comfortable win in the unrelenting Merseyside rain, but lacked the ruthlessness which has characterised our displays in the opening weeks of the campaign.

It gave the hosts hope and they were on the front foot in the closing minutes, but a solid defensive display ensured City go into the international break second in the league behind Arsenal on goal difference.

What happened

City scored with our first shot on goal, Houghton almost nonchalantly rolling an 18-yard free-kick into the bottom right corner after Caroline Weir was upended.

It was the perfect start and though the rain was causing the ball to stick in certain areas, City found rhythm and dictated play.

But Everton, who came into the game unbeaten in their opening two games, were intelligent in their pressing and the visitors nearly suffered when Chloe Kelly picked Aoife Mannion’s pocket and worked the ball to Simone Magill, but her tame 12-yard effort was straight at Ellie Roebuck.

City breathed a sigh of relief moments later when the lively Lucy Graham nearly disposed Gemma Bonner on the edge of the area, but from there we began to exercise more control, restricting the Toffees to speculative efforts from Graham and Hannah Cain.

Cushing’s side weren’t at their usual slick best in the final third, but Pauline Bremer had a curling effort tipped onto the post by Toffees ‘keeper Tinja-Riikka Korpela, before a stretching Tessa Wullaert volley from Jill Scott’s right-wing cross went just wide.

Korpela was at full stretch immediately after the restart, palming Janine Beckie’s angled drive to safety before Bonner powered the resulting corner inches wide of the post.

But the game soon flipped as the Toffees enjoyed their best spell, playing through midfield and preventing City from doing the same.

Cain failed to connect with an eight-yard volley before a cross fell invitingly for Kelly, who cracked the post from 18-yards.

Everton continued to dominate possession, but it was City who carved the most telling chances as Bremer did her best to continue her red-hot scoring form.

Her low shot was saved by Korpela after a superb driving run from Mannion and the German later fired into the side netting whilst under presser from Megan Finnigan.

There was an urgency about the hosts play, perhaps sensing a scalp, but City were rarely troubled at the back, with Houghton and Bonner comfortably dealing with crosses as Everton peppered the box.

Bremer missed a glorious chance late on, heading wide from Lauren Hemp’s centre and it nearly proved costly, but Mannion was in the right place at a corner to clear Graham’s header off the line in the dying seconds.

Resilience pays

This could have been a more convincing win. It also could have been a draw.

We failed to take our chances and, on occasion, Everton created decent opportunities of their own.

They pressed constantly and made life difficult for City, but we met the challenge head on. We created chances under pressure and the back four were resolute in their defending and fully deserved the clean sheet.

It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but City showed great desire to take all three points.

Player of the match – Gemma Bonner

If one player characterised City’s resilience it was Bonner.

She set up a number of attacks from deep and rarely looked troubled with Cain’s pace in the first instance and the physical threat of Elise Hughes in the latter stages.

It was in that period in which she came to the fore, winning tackles and headers as Everton tried in vain to force an equaliser.

She has spoken of her blossoming partnership with Houghton and it was evident again today as the two worked in tandem to nullify the Toffees attacking threat.

Team news

Cushing made four changes to the side that cruised past Lugano in midweek, with Mannion, Bonner, Weir and Bremer all returning to the starting XI.

The boss was also able to name Lauren Hemp in a matchday squad for the first time this season, with the teenager fit again after her shoulder injury, but a knee injury denied him of the services of Laura Coombs.

XI: Roebuck, Mannion, Houghton (C), Bonner, Stokes, Walsh, Scott, Weir, Beckie, Wullaert, Bremer.

Subs: Benameur, Campbell, Toland, Hemp, Park, Bissell, Fidalgo,

Up next

This was City’s final game before an international break, during which 12 players will be representing their country.

FA WSL action resumes on Saturday 12 October when we’ll welcome Birmingham City to the Academy Stadium for a 2pm kick-off.

The draw for the Champions League last 16 takes place tomorrow, with the first leg of that tie scheduled for the week after our FA WSL return on 16/17 October.

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