Manchester City produced a dominant performance to kick off the new Women’s Super League season in style, reacting perfectly to their manager’s pre-match challenge.
City blew Everton away at Goodison Park, live on BBC One, as the WSL began a new era with a high-profile broadcast deal this season.
For all the off-field changes, though, Gareth Taylor challenged his side to use the pressure to their advantage as he tries to guide City to a title win following two years of Chelsea pipping them to top spot.
Taylor had spoken before the game of Everton’s threats, pointing to their impressive recruitment throughout the summer as reason that they could cause the big teams problems this season. With a good start to the season a key point he was keen to repeat in pre-season interviews, Taylor could have done without the mounting injury issues that saw Ellie Roebuck, Lucy Bronze, Keira Walsh and Chloe Kelly all absent.
Ellen White and Georgia Stanway were only fit enough for the bench, as new signings Vicky Losada, Hayley Raso and Khadija Shaw started at Goodison Park.
City started well, with Janine Beckie and Losada having efforts, but were leaving some gaps at the other end in a scrappy opening. Their quality forced the opener, though, with Alex Greenwood sending Demi Stokes in the area to split the defence.
Everton held Stokes up, but couldn’t answer Janine Beckie’s delightful reverse pass back into the box to set up Caroline Weir for a shooting chance. Losada was well placed to smash in the rebound from Weir’s saved effort to cap a fine move.
That sparked Everton’s downfall, and it was soon two for City. Greenwood, impressive in splitting the lines from defence, found Beckie, who had all the time in the world to make room for a shot and fire into the bottom corner.
It would be three before the break as Raso – at Everton last season – darted through the defence and laid it on a plate for Shaw to convert for a goal on her WSL debut from seven yards.
Taylor had wanted his side to be aggressive in their tactics, and it was an approach Everton had no answer for. City were putting on a show for their national audience, this being the first-ever women’s domestic league game broadcast live on terrestrial TV.
Everton came back out revitalised, but didn’t throw anything at City they couldn’t handle. Karima Taieb, in goal due to the absences of Roebuck and Karen Bardsley, produced a number of good saves throughout to justify her selection. With so many regulars out, Taylor will be pleased to see fighting performances from fringe players like Taieb, Laura Coombs and Esme Morgan.
And of course, City could always rely on the brilliance of captain Steph Houghton. While others shone in the first half, Houghton allowed them to get forward, and she earned a goal of her own when she curled a fine free-kick over the wall and into the top corner midway through a quiet second half.
It was as perfect opening performance as Taylor could have hoped for. His new signings impressed, his previous players made a point, and two of his injury doubts returned late on in Stanway and White.
The good start Taylor wanted to the new season was even better than he could have imagined.
Taieb – Some good saves, looked comfortable. 6
Stokes – Solid in defence and showed her attacking capabilities with her dangerous run for the first goal. 7
Greenwood – Not just dealing with everything defensively, she started the moves for the first two goals with defence-splitting passes. 8
Houghton – City’s leader keeping things ticking as always, allowing other defenders to get forward. Brilliant free kick. 7
Morgan – Grew into the game at right-back and put in some good crosses. 6
Losada – Recovered from early mistake to show the technical improvements she can bring to City. Well-taken goal. 7
Coombs – Not as involved as her fellow midfielders, but didn’t put a foot wrong. 6.
Weir – Her runs from midfield kept Everton guessing and made the first goal. 6
Beckie – Superb ball in build-up for first goal and well-taken second. Could have scored more. 7
Raso – Looking lively on the right, popped up on the left to assist the third. 7
Shaw – Some great hold-up play and striker’s finish. A fine WSL debut. 7
Stanway (on 65) – Good run-out. 6
White (on 65) – Won the free kick for Houghton’s goal. 6
Kennedy (on 73) – Debut for the new signing. 6
Hemp (on 73) – No real impact, but she didn’t need to make one. 6
Scott (on 81) – No time to rate.