Everton’s winning start to the FA WSL season came to an end after losing to Manchester City Women 1-0 in a close encounter at Southport FC’s The Pure Stadium.
City and Lionesses captain Steph Houghton’s seventh-minute free-kick proved to be decisive for the visitors despite the Blues going close on a number of occasions including seeing a Lucy Graham header cleared off the line in added time by Aoife Mannion.
When the dust settles after Sunday’s narrow defeat, Everton boss Willie Kirk and his players will reflect on an impressive performance and take pride from a gutsy showing against a side that finished second in last season’s FA WSL and lifted the FA Cup.
Both teams headed into the game off the back of impressive starts to the league season - picking up maximum points from their opening two games, scoring three goals and keeping two clean sheets in the process.
Everton made five changes to the team that lost 1-0 to Birmingham City Women last Sunday in Continental Cup action – Kika van Es, Simone Magill, Molly Pike, Hannah Cain and Tinja Korpela all coming in to the team for the Blues.
The visitors got off to the perfect start when Jill Scott was brought down on the edge of the box and Houghton stepped up to drill the resulting free-kick into the bottom corner of Korpela’s goal to put Man City in the lead inside the opening 10 minutes.
The Blues looked to hit back minutes later when skipper Graham received the ball in space on the edge of City’s area and managed to play in Magill on the right wing, but the Northern Ireland international’s shot was straight at goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck.
Nick Cushing’s side went close to doubling their lead in the 31st minute when Janine Bremer’s curling shot looked destined for the back of the net only for Korpela to dive to her left and claw the ball away to safety with a fantastic save keeping the deficit to one heading into the break.
Straight after the break Korpela was again called into action palming Janine Beckie’s angled effort to safety.
Buoyed by the impressive showing in the first half the Blues pushed hard for an equaliser in the second half, dominating possession with Chloe Kelly at the heartbeat of everything positive for the hosts. In the 54th minute the England international picked the ball up on the edge of City’s box and let fire with her shot from 20-yards narrowly missing Roebuck’s left-hand post.
Despite bossing possession and looking the more likely of the two sides to grab the next goal, the Blues couldn’t quite create the decisive opportunity to pull themselves level at Southport.
Two minutes into added time, City number nine Bremer somehow missed a gaping goal with her header from four yards out, which could have proved costly two minutes later when Scotland international Graham had her header cleared off the line by defender Mannion.
Next up for Kirk’s side is an away trip to face Kelly Chambers’ Reading Women at Adams Park on Sunday 13 October.