Manchester City were beaten to the Barclays Women’s Super League title on goal difference despite a 2-1 final day win at Aston Villa.

Mary Fowler’s sharp turn and finish opened the scoring inside 25 minutes at Villa Park, with Lauren Hemp’s late strike cancelling out a Rachel Daly equaliser to see us match our best-ever WSL points tally.

Gareth Taylor’s side needed to better Chelsea’s result against Manchester United or win by three more goals than our title rivals to finish as champions.

But with Emma Hayes’ side winning 6-0 at Old Trafford, our result wasn’t enough to bring the WSL title back to Manchester, for this season at least.

What happened

While City fans around the world had one eye on the result at Old Trafford, Gareth Taylor had insisted his players’ focus was solely on taking care of business on a sunny Villa Park afternoon.

And the visitors set to task from the off, almost taking the lead when Chloe Kelly’s cross for Hemp ricocheted off the winger and into the grateful arms of Anna Leat.

An early double from Chelsea meant City had a mountain to climb, but we continued to press for the game’s opener at Villa Park with Alanna Kennedy heading onto the crossbar from a free-kick midway through the half.

Her international team-mate Fowler, though, needed no invitation when given her first sight of goal when she finished off a brilliant team move.

The Australian met an inviting ball into the centre of the box from Hemp and, in one clean movement, controlled and volleyed home on the turn for the opener.

It was vintage City, and Fowler almost returned the favour on the half hour when she cut the ball back into the path of the winger, with only a timely Villa block on the line preventing a second.

City went even closer with half-time approaching when substitute Laura Blindkilde Brown fired against the bar after making a late run into the Villa area.

The hosts made a rare foray forward just before the break with Kenza Dali’s effort too high to trouble Khiara Keating, before Jess Park forced a remarkable reaction save from Leat to round off the half.

But with Chelsea cruising into a four-goal lead before the break at Old Trafford, only a remarkable second half display would be enough to bring the title back to the Joie Stadium.

Undeterred, City continued to pile forward in search of further goals, but the Villa defence continued to hold firm as the game ticked past the hour mark.

Steph Houghton’s introduction to the action, however, drew a tremendous reception from both sets of fans, as our legendary captain played her final game before retirement.

The captain’s every touch was applauded by the travelling supporters as she drew the curtain on an incredible career.

But the next goal at Villa Park would go against the run of play, with Daly calmly slotting home past Keating after a swift counter attack to restore parity.

Hemp headed just wide soon after and forced another excellent reaction save out of Leat from close-range as City looked to regain the advantage.

Elsewhere, Fowler fired over from a promising position at the far post, and Alex Greenwood headed over the bar as the Villa goal continued to lead a charmed life.

And Leat once again pulled off a remarkable save to deny Blindkilde Brown against her former Club as the game ticked into the final 15 minutes.

The pressure eventually told though, with Hemp getting on the end of Fowler’s cross to break the Villans’ stubborn resistance.

Player of the Match: Laura Blindkilde Brown

Brought in as an early sub after Laura Coombs’ injury, the midfielder’s energy and quality provided an important spark in City’s engine room.

The 20-year-old almost grabbed the goal her performance deserved when she struck the bar in the first half, but her display against her former club was cause for excitement heading into 2024/25. 

How we lined up

Gareth Taylor made one change from the side who were edged out by Arsenal in our previous WSL clash, with Alanna Kennedy starting in place of Leila Ouahabi.

Laia Aleixandri switched out to full-back, meaning Khiara Keating‘s back line consisted of Kerstin Casparij, Kennedy, Alex Greenwood and the Spain international.

The midfield saw Yui Hasegawa start at the base of a three, with Laura Coombs and Jess Park given licence to get forward and support the attack.

At the sharp end, Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp were on the flanks, with Mary Fowler at centre-forward.

CITY XI: Keating, Casparij (Ouahabi 66’), Kennedy (Houghton 66’), Greenwood (C), Aleixandri, Hasegawa, Park, Coombs (Blindkilde Brown 14’), Kelly (Stokes 89’), Hemp, Fowler.

SUBS: Startup, Angeldahl, Morgan, Pritchard, Mace.

VILLA XI: Leat, Mayling (Corsie 59’), Patten, Lehmann (Leon 59’), Nobbs, Daly (C), Dali, Turner (Gregory 85’), Hanson (Pacheco 85’), Taylor (Parker 46’), Maritz.

SUBS: Tucker, Gregory, Salmon, Mullett, Magill.

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