Manchester United reached the semi-finals of the Women’s FA Cup for the first time after beating Lewes 3-1 at The Dripping Pan.
The WSL title hopefuls weren’t at their best on the south coast but managed to squeeze their way into the next round against the resilient Rooks of the Women’s Championship.
Lewes went ever so close to taking a shock lead with just six minutes on the clock. A low cross from Nat Johnson fell to Kirsty Barton in the six yard box, but Maria Thorisdottir managed to make a brilliant recovery challenge to deny what would have been a certain goal.
And the hosts were punished in the following moment as United took the lead. Ona Batlle put in a cross from deep as she made her way down the right, with Alessia Russo’s deft flick deflecting off of Rhian Cleverly and rolling past Sophie Whitehouse at the near post.
Despite that goal, United still looked void of confidence and creativity. Russo looked to double the lead with an audacious strike from distance, though this time Whitehouse was equal to her effort.
Marc Skinner brought on Ella Toone at half-time to bring fresh impetus into his side’s performance, and they immediately threatened to add to their lead after the restart. Batlle’s bouncing ball through the box was half-volleyed towards goal by Martha Thomas, with Whitehouse getting down low to deny her.
Toone was the next provider for Thomas – who was far more involved after switching to the left flank – but again Whitehouse was equal to her close-range effort.
Just after the hour mark, United were infuriated that they did not receive a penalty for a handball against Cleverly, who appeared to block the ball from heading towards goal with her arm.
The visitors doubled their advantage soon after, however. Another brilliant cross from Batlle was headed into the top corner by Vilde Boe Rise to silence the home crowd.
But those supporters were on their feet again when Emily Kraft pulled one back with under 20 minutes left to play. Mary Earps was caught in possession by Ellie Mason, and her strike partner found the top corner with an exquisite strike from the edge of the box.
United sought to restore their two-goal cushion with Russo releasing Batlle into the 18-yard box, but Whitehouse was quick off her line to block her shot.
Nikita Parris fired wide from point blank range on the counter in the last few minutes of regulation time, before taking matters into her own hands and dribbling all the way inside from the left flank and firing under Whitehouse to secure United’s passage to the semi-finals.
GK: Sophie Whitehouse (6); CB: Grace Palmer (6), CB: Charlotte Wardlaw (5), CB: Rhian Cleverly (4); RM: Rebecca McKenna (6), CM: Amber-Keegan Stobbs (6), CM: Amelia Hazard (6), CM: Kirsty Barton (5), LM: Nat Johnson (6); CF: Emily Kraft (7), CF: Ellie Mason (6)
SUBS: Paula Howells (N/A), Kenzie Weir (N/A), Aqsa Mushtaq (N/A)
GK: Mary Earps – 4/10 – Had very little to do, but was at fault for Lewes’ goal.
RB: Ona Batlle – 8/10 – Continually galloped down the right wing to Lewes’ detriment.
CB: Maya Le Tissier – 6/10 – Barely tested for much of the day.
CB: Millie Turner – 6/10 – Ditto. Le Tissier and Turner were both assured of themselves, despite conceding.
LB: Maria Thorisdottir – 7/10 – Provided great width in a similar manner to Batlle.
CM: Vilde Boe Risa – 7/10 – Initially found it hard to stand out in a gritty midfield battle, before ghosting forward and putting United two up.
CM: Katie Zelem – 6/10 – Rather wasteful with her passing but brought great energy.
RM: Martha Thomas – 7/10 – Far more threatening after being switched to the left wing.
AM: Lisa Naalsund – 5/10 – Hauled off midway through the first half of her debut with a hamstring injury.
LM: Lucia Garcia – 5/10 – Found it hard to get the better of McKenna. Hooked at the break.
CF: Alessia Russo – 8/10 – Put herself about and led the line with great energy, despite United’s struggles to progress the ball into dangerous areas at times.
Hayley Ladd (27′ for Naalsund) – 6/10 – Brought great bite and endeavour following her introduction.
Ella Toone (46′ for Garcia) – 7/10
Aoife Mannion (64′ for Thorisdottir) – 6/10
Nikita Parris (64′ for Thomas) – 7/10
Rachel Williams (86′ for Russo) – N/A
Marc Skinner – 6/10 – United were hardly inspiring but they got the job done.