MANCHESTER City Women made it two wins from two games at the start of the 2016 Women’s Super League season with a deserved 2-0 victory over fellow title contenders Arsenal Ladies.
Arsenal, who hit the crossbar through Fara Williams early on, played the majority of the game with 10 players after Jemma Rose was sent off after 12 minutes for a professional foul on Jane Ross.
Thereafter City were in command, with Ross heading home her first Citizens goal on 65 minutes after good work from Toni Duggan.
Last season’s top scorer Duggan, who hit the post in first-half injury time, made the three points safe from the penalty spot 11 minutes from time after Nikita Parris was brought down in the box.
City, like against Notts County last week, had to be patient but were eventually rewarded in a thrilling early-season encounter between two sides expected to compete for the title.
The deserved win takes Nick Cushing’s team to the top of WSL 1 after Chelsea Ladies’ match with Liverpool Ladies earlier on Easter Monday was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.
Gunners coach Pedro Martinez Losa opted for experience by handing Williams and Danielle Van de Donk their first starts and promoting Casey Stoney from the bench as Leah Williamson, Marta Corredera and Dominique Janssen dropped down.
An unchanged City, still restricted to 15 players with four injured and one on international duty, made a bright start at a chilly Academy Stadium.
However, Arsenal – who beat City twice in their three meetings in all competitions last season – almost made a 10th minute breakthrough when Williams’s free-kick struck the crossbar after Houghton was booked for felling Asisat Oshoala.
But referee Michael Salisbury – who took charge of Altrincham’s 1-0 defeat at Halifax in the men’s National League on Saturday – showed a red card just 90 seconds later to Gunners defender Rose.
The centre-back, who made her England debut last November, hauled down City’s Scotland striker Ross when she was through on goal and had to receive her marching orders.
Arsenal boss Martinez Losa immediately reacted to the setback with defender Williamson, 18, replacing forward Danielle Carter.
The reshuffle prompted City to increase the tempo as Demi Stokes and Lucy Bronze strode forward from the back to bring saves out of Arsenal keeper Sari van Veenendaal.
But the Citizens still had to be wary at the other end as Abbie McManus produced a superb last-ditch tackle to prevent Oshoala’s clear route to goal.
With the numerical advantage, the hosts were the dominant force in a fascinating contest you could not take your eyes off, between two attack-minded teams who finished second and third respectively in last season’s final WSL standings.
Ross was inches away from finding the net with a header from Bronze’s cross which dropped wide, before Duggan’s low curler came back off the foot of the post in the last action of the first period.
The Gunners introduced Janssen for Oshoala at the interval but could have been behind with seconds of the restart as the lively Parris was kept out by van Veenendaal from close range.
Duggan then drilled another effort wide but Arsenal, marshalled well by experienced 33-year-old Stoney, continued to frustrate a City team in a menacing mood.
Just when proceedings were becoming increasingly flat, the hosts found the answer as Duggan robbed Williamson before delivering an inch-perfect cross for Ross to open her account for the club – and the season.
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 28, 2016
It could have been 2-0 eight minutes later when Scott’s lay-off picked out Kosovare Asllani, who drew an excellent reflex save from van Veenendaal.
But Duggan did give the scoreline a greater reflection of City’s dominance from the spot in the 79th minute after Parris was upended by Janssen.
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 28, 2016
The England striker missed from 12 yards against Notts County but made no mistake this time, drilling in emphatically via the post to have the final word on a crucial result for City, who are building momentum from the outset in their bid for a first WSL title.
The Citizens will hope to secure a hat-trick of league wins against Birmingham City Ladies on Sunday, while Arsenal host reigning champions Chelsea Ladies at Meadow Park on Thursday night.
Manchester City Women’s manager Nick Cushing told BT Sport: “We set out this year to win every game that we play in. There were certain games last year that we strategically thought ‘let’s avoid a loss here and nick a draw’ but this year we thought ‘let’s just keep winning games and see where it leaves us at the end of the season’. We have won today but it doesn’t mean we’re going to win the league. I said before the game if we’d have lost it wouldn’t have been a catastrophe. The team will take confidence from the winning start and the performances. I had a good feeling from the start and we were dominating the ball before the red card.”
— bluesparkler (@bluesparkler) March 28, 2016
Great advert for ladies football @MCWFC very entertaining and throughly 3 deserved points ???
— Invisibleman ? ?? (@arbmcfcpab) March 28, 2016
Wow, that was pretty intense. Tackles and players flying everywhere! Good attendance for the 2-0 #MCWFC win.
— Kate (@anxious_kid) March 28, 2016
Manchester City Women: Bardsley, Bronze, Stokes, Houghton (c), McManus, Corboz, Scott, Asllani, Duggan, Ross, Parris.
Subs not used: Hourihan (GK), Tynan, Paul, Holland, Kemp.
Booked: Houghton (9’)
Goals: Ross (65’), Duggan (79′ pen)
Arsenal Ladies: van Veenendaal, Scott (c), Stoney (Corredera 74’), Rose, Mitchell, Losada, Nobbs, Williams, Carter (Williamson 17’), van de Donk, Oshoala (Janssen 45’).
Subs not used: Byrne (GK), Henning, McCabe, Natalia.
Sent-off: Rose (12’)
Referee: Michael Salisbury (Lancashire)