Vilde Bøe Risa helps Manchester United end poor WSL run with Brighton win

Manchester United will have felt a little closer to Europe on Sunday but it had nothing to do with their temporary proximity to the Channel.

After four Women’s Super League games without a win, Marc Skinner’s side had looked in peril of becoming marooned in mid-table and were desperately in need of this restorative, and thoroughly convincing, victory in West Sussex.

Hope Powell’s Brighton had kicked off in third place but only the excellence of Victoria Williams at centre‑half and Megan Walsh in goal prevented United, and their Norway international Vilde Bøe Risa in particular, from scoring a hatful of goals.

“We should have been three or four up at half-time,” said Skinner, whose team join Brighton on 15 points. “This was a dominant performance which has been coming for a while and I’m proud of everyone. We were much more like the Manchester United team we want to develop; I loved the aggression from us. We showed what we can be – and Risa was magnificent.”

Even so, his players made something of a slow-burn start, with Walsh seemingly hell-bent on helping them extend their winless run. Brighton’s goalkeeper proved extremely busy, making four first-half saves from Risa alone before Hayley Ladd’s half-volley finally eluded her.

Ladd’s goal arrived in first-half stoppage time and originated from a well-worked short-corner routine, driven low across the box.

For once, the otherwise outstanding Williams was confounded by a set piece concluded by Ladd’s first-time connection with Ona Batlle’s pass. Powell’s key defender had excelled, protecting Walsh admirably but she and her teammates were outwitted by a manoeuvre evidently well-rehearsed on the training ground and designed to render their aerial prowess academic.

Brighton’s dismay at falling behind after working so hard was only exacerbated by their lack of threat from open play. Powell’s team had barely ventured into United’s box as they struggled to retain possession. It all seemed a reflection of the enduring lack of creativity and improvisational ability which continues to inhibit a supremely well-organised side reliant on dead-ball routines for almost half their WSL goals.

Perhaps attempting to rectify this imbalance, Powell replaced Felicity Gibbons with Danielle Carter at half-time but it was Williams who, early in the second period, came closest to scoring for the home side. After advancing to look for any fallout from a lofted free-kick, she appeared set to force the dropping ball over the line only to be denied by an extremely brave smothering save on the part of Skinner’s England goalkeeper, Mary Earps.

At the other end Walsh continued to thwart Risa until the 69th minute when the attacking midfielder volleyed Alessia Russo’s superb right-wing cross beyond her adversary, with the ball brushing the inside of a post en route to the back of the net. It was the Norwegian’s first WSL goal since joining United last summer but is unlikely to be her last.

To their credit, Brighton refused to fold and Earps saved well from Ellie Brazil after Carter – who showed off a few pleasingly inventive touches – undid Skinner’s defence. United though were generally in control and, had she not sent a late shot whizzing wastefully wide, Ella Toone would surely have increased their margin of victory.

“It was an important win for us,” said Risa, after collecting the player of the match award. “We needed to win to be closer to the top of the league so I’m glad to have got my first WSL goal.

“I was a bit afraid it wouldn’t come today as I had a lot of chances, some big ones, so it was a special moment. It’s been a perfect afternoon. This is how we want to play; it’s just the start for us.”