Watershed moment for Manchester United Women in the first game at Old Trafford

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Watershed moment for Manchester United Women as they play their first game at Old Trafford as Casey Stoney’s side prepare for ‘dress rehearsal’ next season with supporters beating West Ham

  • Manchester United Women played their first game at Old Trafford on Saturday
  • Captain and lifelong fan Katie Zelem led the team to the iconic stadium
  • Casey Stoney’s squad eventually beat West Ham to take home the points
  • Stoney wants the team to return to Old Trafford next season – this time with fans

Casey Stoney had done her best not to hype Manchester United Women’s first game at Old Trafford.

“It’s a lawn, two goals, a football and 11 against 11,” said the manager before kick-off.

Scoring three points was the most important thing on her mind as United were on the hunt for Champions League football for next season. But the significance of her side running on the famous turf couldn’t be diminished.

Manchester United Women played their first match at Old Trafford against West Ham on Saturday

Manchester United Women played their first match at Old Trafford against West Ham on Saturday

Lifelong Red Devils fan Katie Zelem first took to the Theater of Dreams field

Lifelong Red Devils fan Katie Zelem first took to the Theater of Dreams field

Lifelong Red Devils fan Katie Zelem first took to the Theater of Dreams field

Casey Stoney thought playing at the 74,140-seat stadium would boost her players

Casey Stoney thought playing at the 74,140-seat stadium would boost her players

Casey Stoney thought playing at the 74,140-seat stadium would boost her players

Until May 2018, the club did not even have a women’s team. Now in their third season as a professional outfit, captain and lifelong fan Katie Zelem can say she was part of history after leading the team against West Ham at the Theater of Dreams on Saturday.

United were one of the few top clubs that hadn’t yet played a game on the men’s field, and Stoney insisted they wanted to sell their home in Leigh Sports Village first.

Since that was impossible due to games taking place behind closed doors, Stoney took the opportunity to play at Old Trafford – partly because she was ‘fed up with the questions’ but also to lift her players.

United entered the game after a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal last week, a result that meant they were no longer in control of qualifying for the Champions League.

They were realistic title contenders until February, before falling behind champions Chelsea and rival Manchester City after three defeats in four games. Injuries to Leah Galton and Tobin Heath, their second and third top scorers, have not helped.

In the first half, it was clear that United had little confidence and found little joy against West Ham’s five defenders. The hammers support the WSL table, but showed resilience here.

Although United dominated possession, they only managed to hit goal once – a long-range effort from Lauren James that was easily held by Courtney Brosnan.

“We weren’t good in the first half, that’s probably the worst I’ve seen us play,” said Stoney.

‘I can’t repeat everything I said at half-time, but I did say,’ If you want to qualify for the Champions League, you have to play at Champions League standard ‘.

Teenage prodigy Lauren James finally broke the deadlock after 49 minutes with a header

Teenage prodigy Lauren James finally broke the deadlock after 49 minutes with a header

Teenage prodigy Lauren James finally broke the deadlock after 49 minutes with a header

‘We were sloppy, slow, played for ourselves, not for the team, and made bad decisions. Had there been a crowd they would have been disappointed. ‘

Stoney needed a response in the second half and at 49 minutes she got one. A United corner was swung to the back post, where Maria Thorisdottir walked over to James to nod in from six feet.

James has lost much of this season to injury problems and she showed how much her team missed her on Saturday. United soon doubled their lead via Christen Press, the American clinging to Jackie Groenen’s excellent cross to get over the onrushing Brosnan.

Mary Earps had to make two fine stops to deny Dagny Brynjarsdottir just after the hour, before Lucy Staniforth missed a great opportunity to make it 3-0.

There was still time to make things worse for the visitors, because Laura Vetterlein was sent away for collecting two yellow cards.

Stoney had described this game as the ‘dress rehearsal’ for when United can host a game at Old Trafford for supporters she hopes will be next season.

Jackie Groenen (facing the camera) then made it 2-0 with a deft lob on Courtney Brosnan

Jackie Groenen (facing the camera) then made it 2-0 with a deft lob on Courtney Brosnan

Jackie Groenen (facing the camera) then made it 2-0 with a deft lob on Courtney Brosnan

Mary Earps made two fine stops in quick succession as Stoney's side held onto third place

Mary Earps made two fine stops in quick succession as Stoney's side held onto third place

Mary Earps made two fine stops in quick succession as Stoney’s side held onto third place

5 ASIDES: TEEN JAMES SHOWS ARE MATURE THAN HER YEARS

By Kathryn Batte

1 Casey Stoney praised Lauren James’s ‘grown-up’ performance after the 19-year-old Manchester United Women’s first-ever goal scored at Old Trafford a month after speaking out about the horrific racist abuse she suffered on social media. “I’m sad that it’s water off a duck’s back for her,” Stoney said. “We must continue to support her and remember that she has been through terrible things in the past month.”

2 Manchester City took 11 consecutive WSL wins when Chloe Kelly scored an 87th-minute winner against Reading after a sensational run by Lauren Hemp. Kelly’s goal brought City to the top of the table, but they stayed there for less than 24 hours, when Chelsea regained the lead with a 2-0 win over Aston Villa.

3 Tottenham still has a long way to go to turn their North London derby with Arsenal into a real game. Spurs were beaten well, as goals from Caitlin Foord, Vivianne Miedema and Katie McCabe gave the Gunners a 3-0 victory. That result follows a 6-1 win for Arsenal in October and a 4-0 FA Cup win in September. Tottenham has made rapid progress in a short time, but the gap to Arsenal is not getting much smaller.

4 More history for Stephanie Frappart after she refereed the Netherlands’ game against Latvia on Saturday, making her the first woman to take charge of a men’s World Cup qualifier. Ukrainian official Kateryna Monzul followed in her footsteps by leading the Faroe Islands against Austria.

5 Liverpool have finally started interviewing lead candidates more than two months after Vicky Jepson left the role of head coach. Understandably, the Reds want to take their time as they are ready for another season in the championship, but the process feels painfully slow.

“The club offered it to us and I took it,” she added.

“I still haven’t changed my mind that I want to consistently bring crowds to Leigh, but it would be great to have a practice game here where we can do well for the fans.”

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