The sign of a good team is the ability to win ugly. However, when Manchester City women win ugly it’s still pretty damn attractive to watch as they defeated Sunderland Ladies 1-0 at the City Football Academy. City knew a win over Sunderland would see them leapfrog the Lady Black Cats into the second Champions League spot behind Chelsea whilst they would close the gap that had been stretched to 8 points by Chelsea’s win at home to Notts County.
However that task was made more difficult as Toni Duggan (injured and wearing a medical boot on her left ankle at the game) and Nikita Parris (suspended) missed out altogether and Lucy Bronze could only make the bench. In their place 16 year old Georgia Stanway made her first start for City and Tash Harding returned up front after more than 2 months out injured with Abbie McManus replacing Lucy Bronze at right back.
At just 16 years old playing Georgia Stanway was a bold move from manager Nick Cushing but she didn’t look out of place, slotting in on the left in place of Duggan and looking a real threat every time City went forward. Up front Tash Harding, who’d managed just 15 minutes since the break for the World Cup due to injury, led the line well playing off the shoulder of the back line and arguably had her best game in a City shirt. Harding looked rusty but looked to make things happen and every time she was in possession looked a goal threat and on another day it might have clicked for her and resulting in a goal.
Sunderland ladies started brightly and forced Karen Bardsley into several decent saves as the front three of the excellent Beth Mead, Abbey Joice and Keira Ramshaw including a difficult save at her near post. Bardsley also made a decent stop from a strongly hit Brooke Chaplan shot. In the second half she made a superb block diving at the feet of Mead that was both a displayed of excellent agility and bravery. Sunderland were one of the best sides to travel to the City Football Academy and they passed it well, the broke from defence quickly and they forced City to defend in large numbers and in the absence of Bronze City weren’t able to the drive possession out of their own defence as quickly as they normally do.
The goal was another superb piece of wing play as City worked it down the right to Krystle Johston who crossed brilliantly to Izzy Christiansen who headed home inside the far post. In the absence of Duggan, Parris and Corboz up front Christiansen put in another superb performance as she covered every inch to try of the field and whenever she got the ball in a shooting position you could really feel the excitement of the crowd that something special might happen. She’s got everything in her locker, technique, a range of passing, speed, the ability to shoot, movement and work rate and it can only be a matter of time (hopefully at 7pm this evening when the squad is announced) before she’s called up to the England team.
Whilst City didn’t play with the fluidity they’ve played with since the World Cup they worked for their win, they defended well (even if they over elaborated in defence at times), they took their goal well and they made the ball do the work when they got the lead.
City’s next game is at home to Liverpool Ladies on Thursday night (live on BT Sport), its a must win if they are going to push Chelsea to the final day.