Chloe Kelly’s deft finish and Laura Coombs’ powerful drive deservedly put Gareth Taylor’s side in front at half-time, but the home team were much improved after the break.
Tobin Heath capitalised on Lucy Bronze’s loose pass to pull one back with a thunderbolt of her own before Kirsty Hanson's close range finish forced City to settle for a frustrating point.
City put on quite the show in the opening 45 minutes of Women’s Football Weekend, outclassing our neighbours in an utterly dominant display in which Ellie Roebuck had only one save to make from a speculative effort from distance.
Georgia Stanway had already fired a warning into the side netting when Kelly nipped in front of Heath to flick Steph Houghton’s scuffed centre past Mary Earps after United had failed to deal with a corner.
It was a recurring theme as Alex Greenwood's set-pieces caused countless problems in the first 45 minutes, with Sam Mewis heading just over from one delivery.
The American and Bronze both saw efforts blocked as City poured forward and but for Leah Galton's block, Kelly might have had a second as she met Demi Stoke's cutback following slick combination play with Coombs.
United were left breathing another sigh of relief when Stanway’s heavy touch allowed Earps to smother before the forward could pull the trigger, but there was nothing the goalkeeper could do to prevent City's second.
A blocked Mewis' effort fell kindly for the midfielder who rifled an unstoppable 18-yard drive into the back of the net for her third goal in as many games.
If there was one negative to that superb first half display, it was that we hadn’t more to show for our superiority and it proved costly.
Casey Stoney’s side were transformed in the second 45 minutes and their pressing paid dividends when Bronze misplaced a pass and Heath pounced to unleash a fierce drive past the helpless Roebuck.
In a complete contrast to the first half, City's back four were troubled.
Lively substitute Lauren James forced Roebuck into a save after a jinking run took her past Houghton and the forward went close again with a rising effort that flew just over the crossbar.
Taylor’s side remained in the game and were inches away from netting a crucial third goal when Stanway beat Ona Batlle to Kelly’s cross, but the youngster steered her volley the wrong side of the post.
Those missed opportunities came back to haunt us and it was a set-piece - from which we had caused havoc at the other end - which proved our undoing.
Having failed to clear a corner, Roebuck made a brilliant point-blank save to keep out Hanson's initial effort, but was unable to prevent the substitute from turning in the rebound as United completed a comeback that seemed unthinkable half an hour earlier.
It set up a tense finale and for all City will rightly be frustrated, that feeling will be shared by United, who came closest to claiming all three points when Stokes made a goal line block from Lucy Staniforth’s header to ensure we left Leigh with a point.
gareth taylor's reaction
"The girls will learn a lot. This happens in football. I thought we were top class in the first half and created good opportunities.
"The effort and endeavour was there [in the second half]. They had to go for it and put pressure on. Sometimes the half-time break comes when you don’t want it.
"I just don’t think we executed well enough. They scored early on and it get their tails up."
City are the first away team to score more than one goal against United in the FA WSL. Previously, the Reds had conceded just six goals in 11 home games.
What it means
We have stretched our unbeaten run to five games in all competitions and this result leaves us fifth in the WSL table with 12 points from seven games.
How we lined up
Taylor made one change to the side that trounced Bristol City last weekend, with Stokes returning in place of Gemma Bonner.
Roebuck’s goal was protected by a back four of Bronze, Houghton, Greenwood and Stokes, whilst Walsh, Mewis and the in form Coombs comprised the midfield three.
White led the line up front and she was flanked by Stanway on the left and Kelly on the right.
It’s a derby double header for City, who face United again in just five days’ time on Thursday 19 November.
Leigh Sports Village is the venue for our final game of the Continental Cup group stage, which kicks off at 19:00 (UK).
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