City score a last-minute winner in front of a sell out crowd at the Manchester Women’s derby
The Manchester Women’s derby took place on Sunday amidst a busy weekend for women’s football, with title contenders Arsenal and Chelsea facing each other on Friday in a London derby. Whilst United entered Sunday’s match unbeaten in their previous 9 WSL games, they are yet to have beaten City in a derby.
City got off to a quick start, when Lauren Hemp, the 21-year-old rising star created a big chance in the 7th minute, but sent the ball flying over the bar. Although City’s attacking press was strong throughout the match, United’s defence were able to keep the scoreline at 0-0 at the halftime mark.
City continued their dominance in the second half as Jess Park received the ball at the edge of the box from Demi Stokes, but her shot cannoned off the post. Ella Toone created United’s best chance with a powerful shot that was saved by Ellie Roebuck, in her hundredth appearance for City, aged only 22.
As the game neared the 81st minute, City were finally able to claim their lead, as late substitute Caroline Weir impressively lobbed the ball over United’s goalkeeper Mary Earps and into the top corner, just 6 minutes after she entered the pitch, to choruses of ‘Sweet Caroline’ from the crowd.
What does this mean for the table?
The match has interesting implications on the table, as City climb up to 5th position, only 2 points behind United. With 8 matches left to play, this brings City back into the battle for Champions League qualification, whilst United edge away from the title contest, 6 points behind current leaders Arsenal. However, United remain ahead of City in the table, and these tight score lines demonstrate the quality gap at the top of the league closing. With the Euros coming up this summer, City’s return to form could be key to the Lionesses success, with 8 of their players named in England’s first squad selection this season.
What does this mean for the wider game?
What can we take from this match in terms of the wider women’s game? The Manchester women’s derby was played in front of a home crowd of 5317, with tickets having sold out in the week prior. Such demand asks the question of why the match wasn’t hosted at the Etihad. Gareth Taylor seemed assured in the decision to remain on home ground at the Academy Stadium, where the players are most comfortable. He stated the only reason to move would be to fit the demand of fans to attend the game. This demand however, cannot be ignored – creating live, busy atmospheres at stadiums, and strengthening connections between the men and women’s teams in a club is essential to the growth of the game.
Hosting women’s matches in larger stadiums is therefore a question that has developed with the game. Many of the women’s stadiums are located outside of their major city centres, limiting the accessibility of matches by increasing travel time. This is certainly the case for United, who play in Leigh Sports Village, over an hour away from central Manchester. Manchester City women’s stadium is, however, easily accessible in its location next to the Etihad. Such proximity to the men’s stadium also works to connect the teams, creating club unification between the teams.
Limiting numbers for such a pivotal game seems like a wasted opportunity. In 2019, City hosted the opening match of the WSL at the Etihad to a crowd of 34,000. Later in the season, both Anfield and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium hosted their respective derbies. The North London derby broke the record for attendance at the WSL with a crowd of 38,262. With clubs selling tickets in blocks, the fans were concentrated together, ensuring a lively atmosphere even without filling the larger stadiums.
Whilst of course ensuring the ‘home’ advantage in front of a full, smaller stadium is attractive, we have witnessed from TV viewings, ticket demand and previous turnouts, that the demand is there. Hearing the roar of fans as Weir scored the winner leaves me with little doubt of the potential atmosphere at the Etihad were the crowd to be tripled. Eidevall, Arsenal’s new manager stated after their match that ‘there was only one thing wrong, and that was that it was played in front of an audience of 3,000 and not 30,000. That is what is wrong with today’s game’.
If, in conjunction with the London derby, the two games had been heavily publicised to both new and old fans of the women’s game, and hosted without a clash of premier league football, these matches could be hugely important in growing and inspiring the women’s game.
We therefore leave Derby weekend with a contentious title race and a quality display of football as the excitement, coverage and club allegiance in the women’s game only continues to grow.
You can read about the previous Manchester women’s derby here.