Manchester United women’s season so far is somewhat of a fairytale. Currently sitting top of the league and through to a cup final, the Reds are nudging ever closer to making history.
However, their season has been a dramatic one and last night’s last minute winner to steal all three points away at Villa was a reminder that the season is far from over.
In all of United’s previous meetings with Villa they have not conceded a goal, hammering them 5-0 at Old Trafford earlier in the season, but this is a Villa side that has come a long way since then.
It’s a team that has been building, that has gelled well together, full of big personalities and leaders on the pitch such as Lucy Staniforth, Alisha Lehmann and Rachel Daly.
The latter scored in the opening ten minutes for Villa, the first goal United has conceded from a set-piece all season as she headed in a corner.
Every set-piece after, United looked nervous and even for the second goal, a well-taken first-time strike by Daly to find the top corner, you could argue that the Reds could have done better defensively.
In fact, Florence Lloyd-Hughes of The Athletic thinks that United’s defensive failures in their game against Villa will give hope to their title rivals.
Lloyd-Hughes went on to criticise Mary Earps, pointing out that the shot-stopper has the sixth-worst success rate for stopping crosses (3.1 per cent).
Despite United not conceding from a set-piece until this past game, data compiled by Opta reveals they have conceded 31 shots from set-pieces.
The Athletic suggests the Reds lack the defensive consistency of their title rivals but I would argue that this is just one game in an otherwise exemplary season.
They did not concede in the league at all until November, in their sixth game.
They remain the only side who has more clean sheets, 12, than goals conceded, 11, in the WSL this season.
It wasn’t an easy watch for Reds fans, mistakes were made but in the end, they dug deep against a resolute opposition and got a result, something they haven’t always managed to do this season.
Of course these mistakes need to be minimised in the remaining games, but United have shown that their mix of experience and youth at the back is at least on par with the big three.