Bunny Shaw hit four goals for Manchester City Women on Saturday as the blues hammered Brighton to keep the pressure firmly on United in the race for third place in the WSL. The Jamaican striker was on top form with two goals in each half, while Caroline Weir, Alex Greenwood and Lauren Hemp added more to stop a threatened Brighton comeback.
The blues were just a point behind United going into the match and had closed the superior goal difference that United held when they beat Leicester 4-0 last weekend. With United only managing a goalless draw at Aston Villa, the race for the final Champions League spot fell within City’s grasp, particularly since the blues play their game in hand against relegation-threatened Birmingham City on Wednesday.
But City can’t take anything for granted and needed a decent result against the Seagulls to throw the pressure back on United to follow suit, and a slip by either team will allow the other to take command of the final battle.
United fans had no cause for optimism after the Seagulls had suffered a surprise 3-1 home defeat to Birmingham and with the blues going into the match on the back of a ten-match winning streak, their supporters would not doubt have looked on in horror as City quickly tore into the visitors.
There was less than three minutes on the clock when Shaw put the blues in front. Demi Stokes waltzed through the midfield completely unchallenged and slipped the perfect pass to Shaw, and the striker controlled with one touch, before firing a left foot shot past the keeper.3
It was Bunny’s fourth WSL goal in her debut season, and it was a clinical finish into the far corner. But it was the work of Stokes who created it with her driving run forward that Brighton just didn’t seem to want to tackle.
And worse was to come for the visitors just nine minutes later as Shaw struck again. Weir was release on the left side of the penalty area and her cross into the middle was just too much for Shaw to get on the end of. Not to let an opportunity go, Lucy Bronze was quickest to react and her first-time ball back into the six-yard box found Shaw, who turned and fired into the bottom corner to make it 2-0 with just twelve minutes on the clock.
There was still work to do for the striker as Bronze’s quick cross came in. However, Shaw’s first touch was excellent as she turned the defender, before firing a low shot into the same corner as the first. If Brighton were stunned after that, they would be shell-shocked just a few minutes later.
Weir again burst forward and released Hemp on the left. The winger’s cross was perfect for the head of Shaw, but this time, Megan Walsh was equal to it as she produced an incredible save to deny Bunny a hat-trick. The rebound, however, fell to Weir and the Scottish international reacted quickly to poke home the third from close range.
It was Weir’s sixth WSL goal of the season, and the goal came about due to poor marking by the defence and superb reflexes from the Scot to prod home as the blues wiped out United’s goal difference in just sixteen minutes.
City looked like they were going to obliterate the visitors and looked like scoring every time they went forward. Lauren Hemp went close to minutes later, but Brighton breathed some life into their game when they were awarded a penalty in the 21st minute. Keira Walsh’s clumsy challenge on Lee Geum-Min gave the visitors a chance to pull a goal back, which was taken by Inessa Kaagman.
The Dutch midfielder sent Ellie roebuck the wrong way as she thundered the ball home, but, even if the England keeper had guessed right, there was too much power on the spot-kick to give her any chance of saving.
City continued to press, with Weir and Chloe Kelly both missing good chances, before Brighton stunned the home crowd with a second on the stroke of half-time. Lee broke forward down the Brighton right, and her ball into the area found Julia Zigiotti, who produced a wonderful first-time finish beyond the reach of Roebuck.
It was only Brighton’s second foray into the City penalty area and, after dominating the match, the blues suddenly found themselves going in at the break with just the one goal advantage.
Brighton almost did the unthinkable in the second half, and City had Roebuck to thank for keeping their lead intact. The England keeper first denied Kayleigh Green, then produced a fingertip save to deny Zigiotti her second and give Brighton thoughts of stealing a point.
Fully aware of the threat Brighton were beginning to pose, City woke up and Walsh mad up for her earlier error with the penalty, when she fed Bunny to make it 4-2. Walsh charged forward and spotted he run of Shaw through the middle, and her weighted pass was perfect to the Jamaican to run onto and fire past Megan Walsh.
It was Shaw’s second hat-trick of the season after the striker hit a treble in City’s 6-0 FA Cup win over Leicester in September, and Bunny would go one further just four minutes later.
Hemp’s charge down the left and into the penalty area saw her cross to the striker, and Shaw made no mistake with a first-time finish that flew past Walsh, and once again give the blues a three-goal cushion. This time, they wouldn’t lose it.
Although it was made by Hemp, Shaw’s movement inside the area created the space, and Hemp’s inch-perfect pass made the outcome inevitable.
City were in no mood to let their advantage slip, and a brace of assists from Weir, which Greenwood and Hemp benefitted from, made sure there was no way back for the Seagulls.
The Scot’s corner in the 68th minute almost fell onto the head of an unmarked Greenwood, and the defender’s feet barely left the floor as she guided the ball beyond Walsh to make it 6-2. And just a minute later, Weir again released Hemp down the left and the young winger burst free, before curling her shot around the keeper to make it 7-2.
In the end, it was an outstanding display from the blues to dispatch the visitors with relative ease in the second half. Although United moved back into third place with a 3-0 home win over West Ham, the blues have erased the red’s goal difference and victories at home to Brighton and away to Reading on the final day of the season, will see City qualify for Europe at United’s expense.
Final Score: Manchester City Women 7-2 Brighton and Hove Albion Women