Manchester United's Alessia Russo (centre) celebrates the third goal. PA

United fight back for win in first WSL game in front of fans at Old Trafford

Ninth-placed Everton threatened to spoil the party but a penalty from Katie Zelem and Alessia Russo’s brace secured the points.

AN ENTHUSIASTIC CROWD of over 20,000 watched Manchester United boost their Champions League qualification hopes by coming from behind to defeat Everton 3-1 in the first Women’s Super League game in front of fans at Old Trafford.

United made their debut at the famous stadium against West Ham last year but Covid-19 restrictions meant no supporters were allowed.

Ninth-placed Everton threatened to spoil the party with an early goal from Claire Emslie but Alessia Russo equalised in the 35th minute and then scored the third, with a penalty from captain Katie Zelem in between.

Marc Skinner’s side are facing a real battle with rivals Manchester City for third place and this was a must-win game.

United looked like they were still soaking in their surroundings as Everton caught them cold with less than four minutes on the clock.

manchester-united-v-everton-barclays-fa-womens-super-league-old-trafford Everton's Claire Emslie (left) is mobbed by teammates. PA PA

Kenza Dali was given time and space to turn in midfield and play a fine ball through to Emslie, who drove in from the right and fired a shot across Mary Earps and just inside the far post.

United tried to respond quickly but they lacked composure in the final third and did not create a real chance until the 21st minute, when Hannah Blundell’s cross from the right was hooked towards goal by Martha Thomas.

Sandy MacIver dived to save and a spell of pinball inside the box ended with Leah Galton having a shot blocked.

The right channel was proving profitable for United and it was from there that the equaliser finally arrived, Ona Batlle breaking into space before crossing for Russo, whose looping heading dropped over MacIver and into the net.

It was met by delighted screams from the young crowd, and MacIver had to be alert to prevent United taking the lead before the break, punching away a Zelem free-kick.

manchester-united-v-everton-barclays-fa-womens-super-league-old-trafford Katie Zelem scores their side's second goal from the penalty spot. PA PA

Everton remained a sporadic threat on the break and they had one more chance before half-time but Izzy Christiansen could not keep her shot down.

United stepped up a gear after the break and only Ella Toone will know how she missed a golden chance in the 50th minute. She was all alone in front of goal to meet Thomas’ cross but blasted over.

However, the hosts were not made to regret that for long, Zelem confidently converting from the spot after half-time substitute Lucy Graham took a heavy touch and caught Thomas as she lunged to try to make up for it.

Thomas thought she had grabbed a third soon after but was denied by an offside flag after Maria Thorisdottir just strayed beyond the final defender.

United still needed to be alert at the back, and Emslie threatened again but this time was unable to bend her shot on target.

The points were secured in the 84th minute, though, when Zelem sent in a corner and Russo again rose highest to head in.

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