United States midfielder and World Cup winner Sam Mewis also gained her first taste of WSL action, making her debut in the heart of midfield, alongside fellow debutant Chloe Kelly, as the title hopefuls secured the perfect start against the top-flight newcomers.
Women’s football had endured a frustrating and agonising wait for action with 196 days between the final league game of 2019/20 and this 2020/21 opener.
Last season’s premature finish – though sensible given the world’s circumstances – meant City were denied a trophy, missing out on a second league title on a points-per-game basis.
The disappointment of the setback – with the significance of fine margins highlighted – and the absence of the beautiful game had lingered throughout the summer, fuelling the hunger and desire for the new campaign.
Also following last weekend’s FA Community Shield defeat to Chelsea, City were intent on starting the fresh term brightly.
The new campaign kicked off with an intriguing match-up, as title-chasing City - with new boss Taylor taking charge of his first league game - travelled to newly-promoted Villa.
The prestigious Villa Park fittingly showcased the season’s curtain raiser – the occasion marred only of course, by the absence of fans.
The visitors came flying out of the blocks and almost opened the scoring inside 20 seconds, as Mewis headed inches wide.
Within the first five minutes, Stanway also saw two early efforts well-blocked, while Mewis had a goal ruled out for offside, as Kelly caused havoc down the left flank.
City’s early pressure paid off, as the away side harried and hassled the hosts. Stanway was alert to capitalise on a defensive mistake, nipping in to beat goalkeeper Sian Rogers to the ball and slotting into an empty net, after Nat Haigh had misjudged Caroline Siems’ backpass.
Stanway then had the chance to turn provider – only to overhit an attempted cross to Janine Beckie – but the lead would be doubled courtesy of the England striker on the 20-minute mark.
Once again, Stanway profited from a Villa mistake, chasing down Marisa Ewers’ backpass and blocking Rogers’ attempted clearance with the ball ricocheting over the line off the City striker.
Stanway could have had a hat-trick inside the half-hour, scooping Beckie’s delivery over the crossbar – but the forward was spared her blushes with the offside flag raised.
Villa also had the ball in the back of the net as Stine Larsen converted the rebound, after Ellie Roebuck had parried Ramona Petzelberger’s effort but again, the goal was ruled out – harshly so, as replays proved.
In a rare spell of Villa pressure, the Danish striker forced Roebuck into another stop moments later with a low drive, which the shot-stopper watched and gathered comfortably.
Mewis was then unfortunate to scuff an effort wide, before Stanway spurned the chance for a first-half hat-trick, collecting Steph Houghton’s pass and rounding Rogers but firing over.
After the break, Villa – inspired by their half-time teamtalk – perhaps should have pulled a goal back, but Diana Silva curled wide, having been played through by Emma Follis.
City soon regained control however – almost extending our lead through Caroline Weir, who fired straight at Rogers, and Mewis, whose curling attempt sailed over the bar.
Rogers then did well to deny Beckie one-on-one, while Roebuck produced an equally impressive stop to deny Follis.
As City looked to secure the game and Stanway sought to complete her hat-trick, Rogers made two smart saves at her near post and Weir smashed just over, after embarking on a tricky, positive forward run.
Substitute Ellen White also struck the frame of the goal with a powerful drive, before seeing a goal ruled out for offside – as did Kelly – but two would be enough on the day, as City sailed off to a flyer.
What it means
City rise straight to the top of the table with all other opening day fixtures taking place tomorrow – hopefully, a sign of things to come!
How we lined up
Keira Walsh operated in her defensive midfield role, deployed behind Mewis and Weir. Beckie returned to the starting XI on the right flank in place of the injured Lauren Hemp, while Kelly hugged the left touchline.
Stanway led the line upfront.
Player of the Match: Georgia Stanway
Showcasing a potent predatory instinct and at the heart of City's best attacking moves, 2019 PFA Women's Young Player of the Year and 2019/20 nominee Stanway started the new season the way she'd hope to continue it – back amongst the goals.
Making her 100th league appearance for City, captain Houghton also registered her 100th win in the competition, becoming the first player to achieve the feat.
The Academy Stadium hosts its first competitive women’s fixture since February, as Brighton and Hove Albion visit for our first home game of 2020/21 on Sunday 13 September (2pm kick-off).