A looping header from Millie Turner eventually separated Manchester United from the Tottenham team that were promoted behind them into the WSL, but this test was much harder than their five previous victories over the home side.
Despite being unbeaten in their past seven WSL fixtures, it was the Red Devils who needed to restore some pride after suffering a midweek League Cup defeat to Liverpool, who were relegated to the Championship at the premature end of last season.
“I asked for a reaction, I asked for a little bit more physicality and battle and I definitely think we got that,” said the United head coach, Casey Stoney. “It’s been a tough week, emotionally, physically, but we’ve come out with three points and a clean sheet.”
Tottenham’s 4-0 League Cup dismantling of Championship side London City Lionesses had given their co-managers, Karen Hills and Juan Amoros, their first win of the season. It was needed. Before that Spurs had an opening-day draw and then suffered three defeats, scoring twice, with neither goal coming from open play.
“The main thing [is that] the performances are very good,” said Amoros. “We know we are playing some of the top teams and you need to be at your best to beat them. The moment you are not clinical enough in front of goal, the moment you concede, it’s very difficult to get back into the game.”
Alex Morgan was again out of the Spurs squad but her USA teammates Christen Press and Tobin Heath were familiar faces on the pitch and both started for United for the first time.
Stoney reinforced the importance of having Heath and Press in the squad. “Those stories that they can share, you can’t buy those. They’re World Cup winners. They’ve played with some of the best players in the world.”
For Spurs, Alanna Kennedy and Shelina Zadorsky, both on loan from Orlando Pride, showed the steel they have added to the midfield and back line respectively.
It was Zadorsky who sent Rosella Ayane racing down the channel inside five minutes, but the 24-year-old played her effort wide of the far post. There was a relentlessness to the Spurs press and organisation of the high line that had not been quite as consistent in their previous outings and United were a little rattled early on.
With Stoney perched on top of a drinks cooler, surveying things Bielsa-style, her United players began to find some time and space in the middle. Just shy of the half-hour mark, slowly the American duo eased out chances. Press, finding herself through the middle, switched selflessly to Heath to her left but her effort was straight at Becky Spencer.
The expectant Morgan-watchers were again disappointed that the American superstar has yet to make her Tottenham debut, but the striker was present, returning from the dressing room for the start of the second-half deep in conversation with Ayane.
United, however, kept the home team camped in their own half and eventually broke Spurs. From a Heath corner, Turner’s looping header flew over Spencer before dipping slowly into the net.
“Truly gutted,” said Amoros, and Spurs were again punished for a lack of cutting edge up front.