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1st March 2012

Manchester overcome gritty Salford in tough encounter

University of Manchester Women’s 1st XI – 2 University of Salford Women’s 1st XI – 1

Manchester came across tough opposition in the form of local rivals Salford as they looked to continue their fine league form. With Manchester sitting on top of the table and Salford rooted to the bottom, a spectator could be forgiven for expecting an easy victory for the talented Manchester side. However, Salford produced a resolute performance to keep Manchester on their toes right up to the final whistle.
It was a clear and cool afternoon at the Armitage Centre as the teams stepped out to commence play. The home side started the brighter, passing the ball quickly and confidently. Manchester’s captain Olivia Thackray was quick to impose herself on the game, playing an inviting ball through to winger Nat Robinson, whose teasing cross was initially spilled by the Salford keeper before being eventually cleared. Manchester continued to grow into the game, as Chloe Tomlinson beat the offside trap on the right flank to play in another testing cross, Robinson firing just wide at the back post. Thackray continued to weave play together in the centre of the park, winning a free-kick around twenty-five yards from goal. Her floated effort from the set play was clutched gratefully by Salford’s number one. Manchester’s early dominance resulted in a breakthrough after around ten minutes. Thackray broke free in midfield and split the Salford defence with a well executed through ball. Nat Robinson bore down on goal and Salford’s keeper could only palm her well struck effort into the bottom left corner.
Following the opening goal, Manchester continued to exert control. The midfield trio of Thackray, Robinson and Tomlinson was causing problems for the Salford defence, while lone striker Jess Casey used her aerial ability and close control to spearhead Manchester’s attacks. Good footwork from Chloe Tomlinson carved out another opportunity but her low effort from the corner of the eighteen yard box was saved comfortably. Another chance fell to Thackray but her strike was just wide to the right of Salford’s goal. It was on the half hour mark that Manchester made their continued ascendancy count, as a missed header in the Salford defence fell fortuitously for Casey. The Manchester striker powered through, and was justly awarded a penalty for a shirt tug from the opposing centre-back. Nat Robinson stepped up to take the spot kick, hoping to net her second of the game. She gave the keeper no chance, firing low into the left corner; Manchester had doubled their advantage and looked in unstoppable form.
Salford mustered their first clear cut chances towards the end of the first half. A sliced effort forced the first save from Manchester keeper Beth Evans, who then had to be alert to pounce on the rebound. Just a few minutes later, Salford earned the first corner of the match. The floated cross required a combination of Manchester’s centre-back partnership Kirsten Morris and Francesca Self to clear. The whistle blew for half time, with Manchester having displayed both attacking prowess and defensive capability to earn a 2-0 lead. However, though Salford were yet to really threaten, the tie was far from won.
Manchester created the first opening of the second half, though Thackray’s shot was claimed easily by Salford’s keeper. Tenacious work from Lucy Spring in midfield earned another free-kick in a dangerous position but once again Salford’s goalie was equal to it. Despite these early opportunities, Salford had emerged for the second forty-five as a much more determined force and began working the ball in a way that they hadn’t previously. A cross from the left broke through Manchester’s resilient backline and resulted in a free header glanced over the bar. Salford really should have scored, but their confidence had received a much-needed boost. Almost immediately, another trying cross required a header from Morris to clear. Salford’s increasingly attacking mentality opened the game up, and Manchester responded with attacks of their own. A poor goal-kick from Salford’s newly-introduced substitute goalkeeper allowed Tomlinson to play in yet another cross, Casey cutting back to Thackray whose effort grazed the crossbar as it went over.
With twenty minutes of the second half played, another goal felt imminent; and it also seemed that it could be a crucial one. It was Salford who claimed it, closing the deficit in scrappy style. The taxing wing play of Salford’s team was again involved, as Beth Evans couldn’t quite grasp a deep cross from the right flank. The ball squirmed free and Francesca Self was forced to clear a goalbound strike off the line, only to see a Salford striker to prod the rebound home. Suddenly, Manchester’s lead seemed precarious and Salford looked to seize on the momentum they had generated.
Playing to their strengths, Salford continued to pepper the Manchester area with high crosses and long balls, but Morris and Self, combined with full-backs Jeanie Gordon and Grace Whitaker proved a resilient backline. Midfielder Lucy Spring never shirked a tackle, providing an effective shield to the defence. Despite increasing pressure, Salford were limited to a single clear chance; keeper Evans pulling off a fantastic reaction stop to thwart a shot seemingly destined for the top left corner. Manchester introduced a trio of fresh faces late in the second half; Chloe Mapp, Simone Wan and Laura Gilroy. Their energy helped to rejuvenate the seemingly dilapidated Manchester attack, Wan in particular unlucky to connect with a tantalising ball across the six yard box from Mapp. As Salford pressed for an equalizer in the tense closing minutes, the final chance fell in fact to Thackray. A quick counter attack left the talented midfielder in space, though she dragged her shot agonizingly wide of the right post.
The final whistle blew and Manchester had won; despite a gritty display from Salford, Manchester’s class had edged them the encounter. Manchester will now look with increasing optimism towards securing the league title.

Matthew Barber

Matthew Barber

Mancunion Sport Editor 2012-13

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