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Manchester United Women moved another step towards the start of the Women’s Super League campaign by drawing 1-1 with Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday afternoon.
Loughborough University was the neutral venue for a keenly contested pre-season friendly, in which Reds captain Katie Zelem gave her side a half-time lead with a direct free-kick and the Seagulls levelled with their first attack after the break.
Marc Skinner’s first competitive game in charge is now less than a week away, with Reading providing the opposition in next Friday night’s WSL opener at Leigh Sports Village.
Katie Zelem, United’s scorer, seizes control in midfield.
There were no chances of note in the early stages of the game but the intensity was high and Ella Toone needed treatment after an accidental clash of heads with a Brighton player.
The breakthrough goal came around the half-hour mark when the Reds repelled a Seagulls corner and broke quickly on the counter-attack with Lucy Staniforth, Hannah Blundell and Toone all involved. Staniforth was fouled just outside the penalty area, presenting her skipper with the opportunity to find the net with a direct free-kick.
Zelem duly did that, for the second game in a row, and now has three pre-season strikes to her name.
Brighton thought they had fashioned an equaliser in the 40th minute but the effort was rightly ruled out for offside. However, they didn’t have to wait too much longer to level the scores, making it 1-1 early in the second half with a close-range finish. Mary Earps made two good saves, and the Seagulls also hit the post, before the ball was eventually fired home in a frenetic attack.
The Reds looked the more likely winners as the contest continued, with Martha Thomas forcing the Brighton keeper to make two saves with a low shot and subsequently a header from Staniforth’s cross.
The Seagulls’ stopper thwarted another aerial threat when Millie Turner connected with Zelem’s left-wing corner at the back post.
Jubilant team-mates join Zelem to celebrate her goal.
Earps also had some work to do, and her huge double save kept Brighton at bay in the 68th minute. By then, Alessia Russo had entered the fray for the Reds as a substitute and the England forward looked lively on her return from injury, with a free-kick almost leading to a headed goal by Maria Thorisdottir.
United: Earps, Thorisdottir, Turner (Smith 62), Mannion, Blundell (Batlle 46), Boe Risa, Zelem (c), Staniforth (Ladd 71), Hanson (F. Fuso 78), Thomas (Jones 71), Toone (Russo 62).
Additional reporting by Matt Bullin.