Clinical finishing and forward presence proved to be the difference as Everton Women fell to defeat at the hands of Manchester United at Walton Hall Park.
The loss sends the Blues out of the top four, while Marc Skinner’s side now sits at the summit of the FA WSL, albeit Arsenal can reclaim that position should they win later today.
Nikita Parris opened the scoring in a moment that Courtney Brosnan will want to forget. Leah Galton and Hayley Ladd were also on target for the Red Devils in what was a frustrating day for Brian Sorensen and his players.
The Blues boss kept faith Aggie Beever-Jones, who was joined in attack by Jess Park and Hanna Bennison. Gabby George and Lucy Graham were charged with providing the width in wing-back roles, as Everton looked set to play on the counter against their undefeated visitors.
A tight opening ten minutes saw Everton doing just that. George and Graham made an early switch of flanks, with the former enjoying joy down the United right.
But it was the Red Devils that looked the more threatening, former Blue Parris causing problems and finding far too much room for Sorensen’s liking.
And it was the England forward who fired her side ahead on 13 minutes. A high cross wasn’t dealt with by Brosnan, who was under pressure from Galton, and the loose ball gave Parris the simple task of slotting into an empty net.
Everton almost had an instant response. George collected a loose ball down the left and drove into the United box, only to see Mary Earps save well from a tight angle.
Galton’s aerial threat continued to cause problems, and Brosnan had to be alert when saving her powerful header after the forward was found by Ladd.
the front three of Everton were struggling to get into the game. Park showed glimmers of her potential, while Beever-Jones forced Earps into another save, after being found by Bennison. The 19-year-old fashioned another chance minutes later, but her effort was blocked and dealt with by the United backline.
Sorensen could never be accused of being a manager who delays making substitutions. Beever-Jones and Bennison made way at half-time for Izzy Christiansen and Katja Snoeijs as the Dane looked to freshen up the attack.
George’s enthusiasm threatened to boil over as she was cautioned for a meaty challenge after the restart. The wing-back would later be replaced, along with Lucy Graham as Sorensen continued to explore ways of getting back into the game.
By then, the Blues were 2-0 down. Galton collected 30 yards from goal and drove towards the Everton defence to deliver a clinical finish that gave Brosnan no chance.
The game then became a scrappy affair with a number of fouls conceded by both sides. But there was nothing scrappy about United’s third. Ladd’s deft finish from the edge of the area effectively ended the match as a contest.
The Toffees refused to lie down; Aurora Galli replaced Meg Finnigan as Sorensen urged his team forward.
Earps was proving a difficult obstacle, though. The stopper saving well after Karen Holmgaard shot from close range.
United continued to have their chances too. Alessia Russo shot wide with a curling effort that Brosnan looked to have covered.
Defeat will be tough to take as Sorensen looks to crack the top tier of the WSL. The team won’t be allowed to dwell too much, though, as a trip to Tottenham Hotspur is next up for Blues outfit that is still a work in progress.