From also-rans to WSL title contenders: Man City beat Man Utd to continue rise

Khadija Shaw  - From also-rans to WSL title contenders: Man City beat Man Utd to continue rise

Manchester City were not given much chance of winning the Women’s Super League title this term but their 11th win in a row on Saturday lunchtime put them one giant step closer to a first title in eight years, and their belief is growing.

Even sweeter for Gareth Taylor’s side was that their win came against Manchester United in front of more than 40,000 spectators at the Etihad.

The 3-1 victory moved City three points clear at the top of the table and City have become a force to be reckoned with.

City’s title rivals Chelsea are the queens of the run-in, with Emma Hayes’ side in second and having never lost a league match in the final two months of the season after it switched to a winter calendar.

But City are on the up – here’s how they have gone from also-rans to title contenders.

‘Unique’ record-breaker Shaw a threatening double act with Hemp

Chief among their many strengths is the goal-scoring prowess of striker Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw and the Jamaica international’s calmly taken goal on Saturday, inside a minute of the start of the second half made her the club’s all-time leading scorer. It moved her on to a club record 68 goals in 82 appearances for City in all competitions.

“[It’s] amazing how short of a time it’s taken her to get there,” Taylor said. “Bunny is just a unique player, she really is. Not only does she give us the goals, she’s a big focal point for the team. She gives everything for the team and her game has improved a lot since she first came from France. She’s a great personality to work with, she’s honest.”

Shaw’s goal, her 17th in 16 league appearances, extended her lead in this season’s WSL Golden Boot race. And with the pace and trickery of England winger Lauren Hemp to her left, very few teams can cope with such combined threats.

Khadija Shaw
Shaw has scored 17 goals in just 16 appearances this season - Getty Images/Joe Prior

Rise of the youngsters

City’s younger contingent have made great improvements this season, perhaps none more so than England midfielder Jess Park, who stole the show on Saturday with two first-half goals and then the assist for Shaw’s finish. Park has stepped up in the attacking-midfield role since Netherlands star Jill Roord suffered a season-ending ACL injury, and Taylor praised the 22-year-old’s energy and quality post-match.

“The cherry on the cake we were looking for with Jess was goals and assists and she gave us that today, on the big stage. Her performance was good with and without the ball,” he said.

“Jess has stepped into the opportunity really well. When you think about how patient she has had to be, she has done really well in that space. She stays out, she does extras [at the end of training sessions]. Laura Coombs was out there doing extras, Hempo, Mary Fowler. They’re a really good bunch in that sense, working hard and trying to improve their game.”

Adding to that are the consistently classy, composed performances on the ball from technically gifted mainstays in the starting team, in holding midfielder Yui Hasegawa and outstanding centre-back Alex Greenwood, both of whom impressed again.

Jess Park
Jess Park has really stepped up since Jill Roord suffered a season-ending ACL injury - Getty Images/ James Gill

Faith in Taylor vindicated

Nonetheless, 12 months ago, there was a lot of negativity around the team’s trophy-less campaign and there was a great deal of surprise among fans when Telegraph Sport revealed last May that Taylor was set to sign a one-year contract extension. Many wrongly assumed he would be let go when his previous deal expired in the summer of 2023 at a time when he was coming under fire. Club sources have repeatedly said they have always had faith in Taylor and he has signed another new deal until 2027.

“Full credit to the players, the group, the group behind the group, to get us where we are,” Taylor said of City’s turnaround since last term. “It’s taken a lot of hard work and trust. The girls have done that really well.”

As for his side’s title chances, Taylor refused to get ahead of himself and added: “The WSL title always seems to go to the final game and I don’t see it being anything different this season. The margins still remain tight.”

Gareth Taylor
Gareth Taylor had his critics but has proved his backers were right to stick with him this campaign - Action Images via Reuters/Craig Brough

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