The striker bagged her seventh and eighth goals in 14 appearances to clinch victory in her first Manchester Derby, while Jill Scott netted her first of the season, to extend our sensational start to the year.
Lauren James had halved the deficit midway through the second half and a Lauren Hemp own-goal made for a nervy final few minutes, but Nick Cushing’s side killed the game to restore the local bragging rights in City’s favour, with the holders now having won two of the first three professional encounters in 2019/20.
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With emotions running high on Derby Day, the opening quarter of an hour proved a cagey and feisty affair – a stop-start contest with several full-blooded challenges flying in.
While both sides struggled to retain possession, City created the game’s first opportunity, as White collected Tessa Wullaert’s through-ball but saw her curling effort palmed away by England teammate Mary Earps.
United’s best chances in the first 45 arrived courtesy of the visitors’ own defensive mistakes, as the Reds pounced on every loose ball in the final third. Jane Ross almost capitalised but saw her chipped effort land onto the roof of the net; City heeded the warning.
Captain Steph Houghton – fresh from signing a new two-year deal with the Club on Friday – then tested Earps once more with a header, before White’s predatory instinct opened the scoring on the half-hour.
Former City star Abbie McManus was the inadvertent provider, under-hitting her pass back to Earps, and White punished the error, clipping beautifully past the ‘keeper and into the bottom corner in front of the jubilant travelling fans.
The goal stunned United – and their vocal crowd – and City eased into the break with a narrow but deserved lead. Stand-in right-back Georgia Stanway had almost doubled the lead just after the opener but fired straight at Earps.
Wullaert should have made it two five minutes after the break, as Cushing’s side countered quickly with United shifting to a more attacking formation. White played the ball into the Belgian’s path but the midfielder opted to cut inside and blazed her effort wide of the top corner.
Gemma Bonner then made a superb block to deflect Jackie Groenen’s low strike off-target, before McManus then planted a bullet header wide of the near post.
City made it two before the hour when Hemp embarked on a trademark run down the flank before cutting back for White, who struck a superb first-time finish for her fifth goal in six games.
As the home side pressed for a route back into the contest, Kirsty Hanson then brought the best out of Ellie Roebuck on 60 minutes, as the City stopper tipped a powerful drive brilliantly over the bar, before substitute James pulled one back with a drilled effort into the near post.
United thought they had levelled through McManus – only for the diving Roebuck to prevent the ball from fully crossing the line – before City scored our third of the game with a slice of good fortune, as Scott’s super strike from range eluded Earps.
In a frantic final few minutes, United rallied, forcing a Hemp own-goal late on to give the home side hope, but City hung on to seal our place in the next round…
What it means
Holders City progress to the fifth round draw, which takes place on Monday 27 January at 6:40pm, live on Sportsday on the BBC News Channel.
Cushing made two changes to the side which defeated Birmingham 2-0 in the FA Women’s Super League last time out, as Wullaert and Stanway replaced Pauline Bremer and Janine Beckie, who is on international duty with Canada.
Roebuck took her place in goal, shielded by a backline of Demi Stokes, Bonner, Houghton and Stanway. Caroline Weir and lifelong City fan Keira Walsh protected the defence, employed behind Hemp and Scott. Wullaert and White led the line upfront.
Player of the Match: Ellen White
Having been forced to miss the previous two Derby clashes through injury, White had spoken beforehand of making up for lost time – and she certainly did.
Alert for the opener, she pounced on McManus’ mistake and showed no mercy, showing impressive composure to finish well under pressure, and – hungry for more – chased down every ball.
Her second goal was a well-taken first-time finish, and she is hitting form at the right time.
City travel to Arsenal in the Continental Cup semi-finals on Wednesday 29 January (7:30pm) before hosting the Gunners in a tasty top-of-the-table FA Women’s Super League clash on Sunday 2 February (2pm), which marks Nick Cushing’s final game in charge before he embarks for a new challenge as Assistant Manager of New York City FC.
Tickets for all home games are available online or at the Etihad Stadium Ticket Office.