Manchester City Women lost valuable ground on the top three as the blues laboured to a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa. Deyna Castellanos scored her first WSL goal since moving to the Academy Stadium, but her strike was cancelled out within moments by a goal from Kirsty Hanson.
And the visitors could have taken all three points home had Hanson’s curling shot hit the back of the goal instead of the upright in the second half as City struggled to break down Carly Ward’s disciplined side.
City have had the upper hand on Villa in recent seasons, while the visitors had only ever beaten a top six side once – their 4-3 victory over the blues in September. But, with the addition of England star Rachel Daly and under the guidance of Ward, now in her second season at Villa, the Midlands side are sitting high in the WSL table. And the addition of former Arsenal star Jordan Nobbs has strengthened the midfield, which could eventually make them a force in the WSL in the future.
At the moment though, it’s City that are chasing a top three spot and a place in next season’s Champions League, but a 1-1 draw was not what they wanted, especially with United and Arsenal, the two teams that are realistically within reach of the blues, performing so well this season.
City were fastest out of the blocks and threatened the Villa defence in the opening minutes. Bunny Shaw, joint top scorer in the league, turned and fired a shot that was blocked by the Villa defence. Minutes later, Lauren Hemp’s run and cross was met by the Jamaican, but she couldn’t turn the ball home. Chloe Kelly then fired into the side netting as Villa struggled to get a foothold in the game.
Villa’s first opportunity saw Hanson run through on goal, but Ellie Roebuck was quickly off her line to smother the ball and snuff out the chance. City continued to press forward and were rewarded when Castellanos scored her first WSL goal in City colours.
Shaw this time was the provider as she slid the ball through to the Venezuelan, who hit a first-time shot past the keeper to give City the lead. It was great build-up play from City that started with Lauren Hemp’s desire to win the ball on the left. The ball fell back to Alex Greenwood, who played a neat pass infield which eventually fell to Shaw. The Jamaican spotted the run of Castellanos and played a perfect ball that split the Villa defence for Deyna to score.
The lead lasted less than three minutes as Hanson levelled for the visitors. Daly, who scored two on her debut against the blues in September, turned provider as her cross was met by Hanson. Her first attempt appeared to hit Esme Morgan on the arm, but, instead of appealing for a penalty, the Villa girl had a second bite and hit a looping shot over Roebuck for the equaliser
Villa grew in confidence after the goal and began to take over the midfield. Daly was twice caught offside, the second after Nobbs was allowed to run at the City defence. Thankfully for the blues, Daly mistimed her run and the chance was gone.
Both teams had worrying moments in the first half with players down. Danielle Turner took a Castellanos strike fully in the face while Alex Greenwood took out Roebuck just before the break following another Villa attack. 1-1 at half-time and the match was finely balanced.
City made a change at the break with Kerstin Casperij coming on for Morgan, but it was Villa that took the impetus to City. The visitors were more energetic and used possession better than the home side and almost took the lead five minutes after the break. A cross from the Villa right was left by the defence, which fell to Hanson. She cut inside and hit a shot that cannoned off the post with an unsighted Roebuck rooted to the spot.
That should have sparked City into life and, although Shaw headed over from a Kelly cross, there seemed to be little urgency about City’s play. They were second to the ball on many occasions, while Villa were snapping at their heels whenever they weren’t in possession.
Nobbs and Daly were running the show for Villa and manager Gareth Taylor made another substitution as Hayley Raso replaced Kelly in the 73rd minute. Seconds after Raso’s introduction, Villa again had another chance, this time Roebuck denying Kenza Dali.
At the other end, Shaw burst into the Villa penalty area but was denied by Anna Leat in the Villa goal, and the Jamaican was denied again in injury time as City threatened to steal all three points.
It was a deserved point for Villa, but City will be left wondering how they allowed the visitors to match and, in some parts, dominate them on their own patch and serious questions need to be answered before the blues return to WSL action on 4th February when Leicester City visit.
Final Score: Manchester City Women 1-1 Aston Villa Women