Manchester City began the new Women’s Super League season with a 2-0 away win as England forward Georgia Stanway was gifted a first-half double by two defensive errors from newly promoted Aston Villa.
Two terrible mix-ups in the Villa backline saw Stanway tap in twice inside the first 21 minutes.
Villa, who were promoted as Championship winners last season, should have pulled a goal back before the break but debutant Stine Larsen’s effort was incorrectly ruled out for offside.
Saturday’s opener was being played without fans at Villa Park, as England’s top division finally returned after a 195-day absence, with the 2019-20 campaign ended early because of the coronavirus pandemic.
While the men’s professional leagues in England all saw at least some form of resumption earlier this summer, the women’s divisions ended abruptly and Manchester City – who had been top of the table – finished second, missing out on the title by 0.1 points per game to Chelsea.
Now led by new manager Gareth Taylor, City made a solid start to their bid to reclaim the title, a week after losing to Chelsea in the Community Shield at Wembley.
They almost scored inside the first minute as World Cup-winning United States midfielder Sam Mewis headed narrowly wide, with England winger Chloe Kelly causing lots of problems for Villa in her first league appearance since joining City from Everton this summer.
Villa made to pay for defensive lapses
But both of the goals came courtesy of sloppy Villa back-passes, as Stanway was twice able to pounce on goalkeeper Sian Rogers.
First, Caroline Siems’ backwards pass was left by Natalie Haigh – who let it run through her legs, intending it to roll straight to Rogers – but there was not enough weight on it and Stanway tackled the keeper and made it 1-0.
Then Rogers and Marisa Ewers attempted to play a one-two, but Ewers’ ball was too soft for Rogers to clear it before Stanway dashed in to make the block and double the lead.
Rogers then produced three strong saves after half-time to prevent City from extending their lead and stop Stanway completing her hat-trick, after Emma Follis was denied by England keeper Ellie Roebuck at the other end, one-on-one from Villa’s best chance.
How did the new signings fare?
The bizarre nature of the goals did not reflect an otherwise technically strong game, with Kelly in particularly impressive form in her first WSL game for Taylor’s side.
He will also have been encouraged by Mewis’ performance, with the towering midfielder growing in to the game as it went on and threading some excellent through balls for Canada’s Janine Beckie to race on to, before having a shot of her own deflected over the bar late on.
As for Villa, their new winger, Portugal’s Diana Silva, looked dangerous and Denmark striker Larsen showed she will be a threat to WSL defences this season, after her arrival from French team FC Fleury 91.
She will feel very aggrieved not to have scored, having found the net on the rebound from Ramona Petzelberger’s effort, but the German was wrongly judged to have been offside.
There is no video assistant referee system in use for the WSL, which resumed at Villa Park – the same ground that hosted the first post-lockdown men’s Premier League game in June when Sheffield United’s men were denied a winner because goal-line technology failed to work.
‘Offside’ goal changes dynamic – post-match reaction
Aston Villa boss Gemma Davies:
“It was a disappointing first 15 minutes. There was a lot of nervous energy really, going in to our debut game in the WSL, at Villa Park, big setting, huge occasion and that first 15, 20 minutes, you saw that.
“But I felt we grew in to the game and the reaction from the players was superb.
[At the start there was] a little bit of focus, a lack of concentration, and ultimately we have gifted them two very poor goals, but as first games go, I’m really pleased with our first 90 minutes.
On the disallowed goal: “I didn’t realise it was onside at the time until I came in to the tunnel at half-time. It’s really frustrating.
“Potentially going in at 2-1, it changes the game. It changes the dynamic and possibly lifts the group going in to the second half.
“One of the things we said at half-time was that the next goal was probably the most crucial. Again, if we’re on the end of that, at you go 2-1, again, the game changes.
“So yes, I’m frustrated but it’s not something I can control.”
Man City goalscorer Georgia Stanway:
“I feel very, very sorry for the goalkeeper but, at the end of a day, a goal is a goal and they count towards us getting three points.
“I probably had about a hundred chances but it’s just one of those things. Hopefully next week I’ll have my shooting boots on and a few of them [other chances] will go in the back of the net. But it’s a good step forward and hopefully we can build momentum from here.
“Gareth [Taylor] has come in with new ideas, a new way of playing, and I think it’s just what we needed, a little bit of freshness, and with new players joining the club as well, we can really grow as a club.”
Aston Villa Women
- 5N’DowSubstituted forAleat 69′minutes
- 21EwersSubstituted forSymeat 69′minutes
- 8ArthurSubstituted forHanssenat 90+1′minutes
- 7FollisSubstituted forHaylesat 74′minutes
- 19Abreu Sousa SilvaSubstituted forHuttonat 90+1′minutes
Man City Women
- 19WeirSubstituted forScottat 84′minutes
- 11BeckieSubstituted forWhiteat 67′minutes
Match ends, Aston Villa Women 0, Manchester City Women 2.
Second Half ends, Aston Villa Women 0, Manchester City Women 2.
Corner, Manchester City Women. Conceded by Natalie Haigh.
Attempt blocked. Samantha Mewis (Manchester City Women) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Chloe Kelly.
Substitution, Aston Villa Women. Jodie Hutton replaces Diana Silva.
Substitution, Aston Villa Women. Nadine Hanssen replaces Chloe Arthur.
Offside, Manchester City Women. Demi Stokes tries a through ball, but Ellen White is caught offside.
Attempt missed. Samantha Mewis (Manchester City Women) left footed shot from the left side of the box misses to the right.
Substitution, Manchester City Women. Jill Scott replaces Caroline Weir.
Offside, Manchester City Women. Samantha Mewis tries a through ball, but Ellen White is caught offside.
Foul by Georgia Stanway (Manchester City Women).
Ella Franklin-Fraiture (Aston Villa Women) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Ellen White (Manchester City Women) hits the left post with a right footed shot from the centre of the box.
Ellen White (Manchester City Women) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Chloe Arthur (Aston Villa Women).
Foul by Samantha Mewis (Manchester City Women).
Ramona Petzelberger (Aston Villa Women) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Aston Villa Women. Shania Hayles replaces Emma Follis.
Foul by Georgia Stanway (Manchester City Women).
Ella Franklin-Fraiture (Aston Villa Women) wins a free kick on the right wing.