Seven goals, 80 per cent possession, 888 completed passes and, most importantly, three points that take them above Arsenal and into the Champions League places. This was about as dominant as Manchester City have been all season.
It probably should have been even more. But this was a performance that signalled City are back to their best.
A brace from Caroline Weir and a goal from Steph Houghton put them 3-0 ahead at half-time. Ellen White, Chloe Kelly and Janine Beckie added their names to the scoresheet after the break, and Houghton got her second with a superb free-kick.
Manchester City hit seven past Brighton in a crucial victory that moved them into the top three
Four months ago, Brighton defended for their lives to hold Gareth Taylor’s side to a 0-0 draw. The week before, City had needed two defensive errors to beat newly promoted Aston Villa. A 3-1 defeat at Chelsea and a 1-1 draw with Reading in October seemed to suggest the title would be beyond their reach.
But they have found a different gear since then. The turning point came in November when they beat Everton in a closely-fought FA Cup final, winning the first trophy of Taylor’s reign. An 8-1 thrashing of Bristol, a 3-0 victory over Everton and a last-minute win against Arsenal followed.
They are also still missing Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle, who have spent this month in America on international duty. Mewis especially has been formidable since her arrival in the summer, and she grabbed a hat-trick in her country’s 4-0 victory over Colombia last week. Adding her to a side who have scored 14 goals in their last two games almost seems unfair to the rest of the league.
Ellen White was on target for City in a fine performance which shows they’re back to their best
‘It’s taken a little bit of time for us to get our build-up play right,’ Taylor admitted after the game. ‘It takes some time with a new coach and new ideas but I think some of our play over recent weeks has been great and now we’re finishing those chances off.’
The return of Lauren Hemp has been a huge boost. The winger has four goals in five games since coming back into the side. But it was Kelly on the opposite flank who caused Brighton the most problems. Her cross found Weir in the box and the midfielder calmly finished to open the scoring in the 12th minute.
Weir had her second four minutes later, following a brilliant team move. City’s determination to play out from the back has been to their own detriment at times, but this was the perfect example of how to do it right.
The ball started in defence with Alex Greenwood and there were touches from Houghton, Georgia Stanway, Keira Walsh and Hemp before Weir’s strike into the top right corner.
The third was more scrappy, as Houghton forced home from a corner. Kelly was provider again after the break, crossing for White to flick the ball beyond Cecilie Fiskerstrand. The fifth goal was the best of the lot, as Houghton marked her 150th WSL appearance with a trademark free-kick that went in off the underside of the bar.
Janine Beckie also scored ahead of two crunch games against Arsenal and Manchester United
City’s 888 completed passes to Brighton’s 234 is a stat that would have made Pep Guardiola proud. However, it was a loose pass from Laura Coombs that allowed Rianna Jarrett to pull a goal back for the hosts.
There was still time for City to add two more. Kelly was involved in both, scoring the sixth with a fierce finish inside the box then creating the seventh with another cross, this time for Beckie to tap in.
City face West Ham next Sunday then have two crunch games against Arsenal and United before a three-week international break.
‘We want to stay in the mix,’ Taylor said. ‘When we play against the top three teams we know they’re title deciders.’
by Kathryn Batte and Ian Herbert
1. You can usually judge a manager’s effect by how the players react when they’ve gone. ‘Can’t thank you enough for everything you have done for me and this team on and off the pitch over the last three years,’ tweeted Steph Houghton upon England boss Phil Neville’s departure for Inter Miami. ‘Thanks for pushing us to be the best.’ Captain Houghton is not one for platitudes so her reaction speaks volumes and raises questions about the critics.
2. Tottenham’s late cancellation of their home match with Everton yesterday, along with postponements at Arsenal and Bristol City, reduced the roster of WSL games to just two. Everton also axed their midweek game against Birmingham. Bad weather will always cause problems but the proportion of women’s elite games cancelled is greater than lower levels of the professional men’s game. This happens every winter and, with only 12 teams in the WSL, the competition is derailed. Far better facilities are needed.
3. If the Tokyo Olympics are actually held, it’s good news for Team GB that Hege Riise told this weekend’s BBC show Football Focus she wants to coach the team. The Norwegian has already won a World Cup, Olympics and Euros with the Norway team.
4. No fixture this weekend for Liverpool but little sense, either, that they are in a hurry to replace manager Vicky Jepson, who left by mutual consent on January 12. You would want to see more urgency if the club are really serious about getting back into the WSL.
5. Japanese World Cup winner Mana Iwabuchi may have made her Aston Villa debut in a 7-0 thrashing by Manchester City, but her inspired performance earned her side a vital point against Reading. Her arrival could be the difference between Villa staying up or going down.