Manchester United opened up a three-point lead over their title rivals with a comfortable victory over relegation-battling Brighton. Two goals from the in-form Leah Galton and late additions from Rachel Williams and Lucía Garcia were enough for Marc Skinner’s side to swing the pendulum of pressure back on to their title rivals as the WSL continues towards a fascinating conclusion.
Accompanied by their strong travelling support, the league leaders arrived in Crawley on the back of a 4-0 victory against West Ham last weekend with Skinner making just one change. The Norwegian midfielder Vilde Bøe Risa came in for Nikita Parris with both Maya Le Tissier and Alessia Russo starting against their former club.
Despite the differing fortunes of these two sides this season, it was not a straightforward afternoon for United. On the bumpy pitch of a buzzing Broadfield Stadium, they struggled to hit top gear against a dogged Brighton.
Their struggles this year are no secret. Winless since November, Amy Merricks’ side sit two points off bottom-placed Leicester, despite showing improved performances in recent weeks. Brighton’s interim manager was full of fighting talk pre-match but her side have severe defensive issues, having now conceded more goals than any other team in the division this season.
As predicted, it was the visitors who began the game on the front foot with the running of Russo and Galton stretching Brighton’s defence. It took just 13 minutes for them to get their noses in front when Galton got her head on the end of a trademark Katie Zelem delivery. Brighton protested, adamant that Lydia Williams had been impeded, but Stacey Fullicks waved their pleas away.
Despite conceding early, Brighton did not let their heads drop showing the resilience and competitiveness Merricks has talked about in recent weeks. Their best opportunities came on the counter with in-form Veatriki Sarri and Poppy Pattinson both going close. Emma Kullberg also saw a near-post effort just fly wide of the mark.
Nevertheless United controlled possession with Zelem’s deliveries into the box as accurate as ever. The United captain was omitted from the England squad this week but is a consistent presence in the midfield, the key link for Skinner’s team. She should have had another assist to her name but Bøe Risa somehow diverted a shot wide from point-blank range.
Brighton came out with renewed energy in the second half, taking the game to the visitors. Katie Robinson was a thorn in Hannah Blundell’s side, running at pace down the right and setting up Sarri for their best chance of the game. But the importance of whoever got the next goal was evident.
Despite the hosts’ endeavour, it was a moment of magic from Galton that decided the outcome. The winger’s speed is electric and she left Jorja Fox in her dust as United countered down the left. Galton glided round the onrushing goalkeeper before converting from the tightest of angles for her eighth goal of the season.
It was a strike that knocked the life out of Brighton and United cruised to victory. Two further goals came in the final 10 minutes from a pair of substitutes. Williams headed home another Zelem delivery before Garcia pounced on a loose back pass to make the scoreline comfortable.