A third meeting of season, with at least one more to come, and instead of creating derby fatigue it has only served to heighten the intensity of a growing rivalry between Manchester United and Manchester City and the manner of Manchester City’s victory here did nothing to temper it.
Two goals by Ellen White had given City a comfortable lead but the introduction of Lauren James was marked with a goal and moments later United were left ruing the absence of goalline technology after Abbie McManus’s effort was adjudged to have not crossed the line before being pawed away by Ellie Roebuck.
Jill Scott restored the two-goal cushion but a Lauren Hemp own goal led to a more testing end.
There was some bemusement at the team sheet with Georgia Stanway, arguably the player most likely to succeed Fran Kirby at No 10 for England, seemingly positioned at right-back – surely a pretty hefty nail in the coffin of Portuguese full-back Matilde Fidalgo, who joined City in the summer from SC Braga.
Perhaps it is his impending departure that made Nick Cushing go rogue and stick his creative forward at right-back or perhaps it was a tactical masterstroke.
It seemed to be the former, with Stanway lining up alongside Steph Houghton there was a gaping hole up top for City. With no one quite as adept as Stanway as operating in those tight areas, service to White was patchy with United closing off the spaces between their lines well.
There were similar problems for United. The 18-year-old James, sister of Chelsea’s Reece, who has the ability to create something from nothing at any moment, was relegated to the bench for the second game in a row, finally making an appearance with an hour played. Leah Galton, who Stoney has hailed as the best left-winger in the league and is such a vital part of United’s attack, was absent entirely.
A poor pass from the former City player Abbie McManus was pounced upon by her White who lofted a delicate effort over the helpless Mary Earps and the ball rolled causally over the line to give the visiting team the lead.
White doubled City’s lead on 56 minutes when she met a cross from Lauren Hemp’s bursting run in the left and flicked beyond Earps from close range for the prettiest moment of a pretty scrappy game.
The introduction of James, though, swung the game towards United and shortly after her introduction she ensured the hype around her is unlikely to dull, cutting inside with the help of a backheel, to take herself away from Gemma Bonner and Demi Stokes, before lashing low past Roebuck at the near post.
A United free kick from the left was expertly delivered to the back post by Katie Zelem, it looked to have been prodded home by McManus but with Roebuck clawing it out the referee waved away appeals for the goal.
With United furious, City sucker-punched them. A floating shot from Scott catching Earps off guard. The home team, though, were not to be cowed, and hope came in the form of an own goal as the ball bounced off of Hemp after a scramble following a Zelem corner.