Manchester United banish Wembley demons thanks to newfound nous | Sophie Downey

In the words of Julius Caesar, “experience is the teacher of all things”. As Marc Skinner and his Manchester United team made the long climb to the royal box at Wembley, they will have known how important the lessons of heartbreak last time out were in enabling them to lift the Women’s FA Cup for the first time in their history.

With a dominant performance in a comfortable 4-0 victory over Tottenham, the demons of that defeat by Chelsea were firmly put to bed. On that occasion, United were outdone by the guile and nous of more seasoned winners. Against Robert Vilahamn’s fledgling side this time around, Skinner’s side were determined to put on an accomplished display that illustrated why many considered them favourites.

United are full of players with the knowledge and abilities to shine on the most important of stages. From back to front – Mary Earps to Rachel Williams – Skinner trusted in those who have been most tested at this level.

For Earps and Ella Toone, Wembley is their second home, where both have experienced so much success for England in recent years. The latter certainly has an affinity for scoring on this pitch. Many will remember her goal against Germany that helped the Lionesses lift their first major trophy, while she also got on the scoresheet in the Finalissima victory in 2023.

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The 24-year-old has struggled for form at times this season but has had the firm support of her manager throughout. Skinner knows exactly how crucial Toone is to making United tick and her undeniable ability in front of goal. His faith in his midfielder paid off as her spectacular opener deep into first-half stoppage time changed the direction of a finely balanced encounter. That awareness – developed from countless such moments – to arrive in the right place at the right time swung the momentum in United’s favour.

In Williams, who doubled the score early in the second half, United possess experience in abundance. Her ability to find the back of the net has been crucial to much of United’s success over the past couple of seasons. The 36-year-old could have written the book on succeeding on this stage.

In 2012, she played a crucial role in Birmingham City’s FA Cup final victory over Chelsea, scoring a stoppage-time equaliser to send the tie to extra time. She may not start all that often under Skinner, but her manager understands how little fazes Williams at this stage of her career and has relied on her more and more over the course of a difficult season.

Williams may be familiar to many of the opposition in the Women’s Super League but her ability to frighten the life out of defenders is unwavering.

The timing of her runs, her vision to see the play two steps ahead of everyone else, and her seemingly telepathic propensity to nodding the ball into the back of the net are all key to her success.

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Mary Earps and Ella Toone (both centre) have also enjoyed success on the Wembley pitch with England. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

In a fairly uneventful first half, Williams was a constant thorn in the side of Tottenham’s centre-backs. The veteran will have been frustrated that she missed two early gilt-edged chances, rising high, time after time, to meet Katie Zelem’s deliveries into the box. She was not going to miss a third and when the Spurs defence let her run in unhindered at the far post once again, she made them pay.

Lucía García was the other shining star of United’s triumphant afternoon. The Spanish forward has had to be patient under Skinner and that has paid off in recent months. The 25-year-old was another runner-up with this team last year but looked at home this time around with her indefatigable running, high energy levels and strong technical abilities. Her double came as Tottenham started to look weary: firstly alert to a huge distribution error from Becky Spencer before reacting quickest to a second ball.

Spurs, in contrast, were naive and struggled to match the intensity of their opponents. The occasion clearly got to Vilahamn’s side as a normally creative team struggled to fashion any opportunities of note. The captain, Bethany England, came closest when she crashed a header off the crossbar in the second half, but by that time the game had passed them by. It was, of course, Tottenham’s first time at Wembley and their first appearance in a major cup final and they will hope that this experience serves them as well as it did their opponents last year.

For United, success has finally arrived. After a troubled season, Skinner and his players return to Manchester in celebratory fashion. Winning a first piece of silverware is always hard. Having broken that duck, they will look to build the foundations for more success.

The Guardian

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