Man Utd Women's wait for a major trophy ends in style at Wembley

  • Man Utd win the Women's FA Cup with 4-0 win over Tottenham at Wembley
  • First major trophy for the Red Devils, six years after team was reformed
  • Ella Toone, Rachel Williams & Lucia Garcia goals ensured no shock result
Man Utd won the Women's FA Cup at Wembley
Man Utd won the Women's FA Cup at Wembley / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages

FROM WEMBLEY STADIUM - For Manchester United, feelings of ecstasy and jubilation took over as the final whistle sounded at the home of English football on the hottest dat of the year so far. The FA Cup trophy was theirs, a first piece of major silverware for a club who finally took the plunge in professional women’s football as recently as six years ago.

Ella Toone, whose superstar status off the pitch is growing and growing after recently launching - in addition to her YouTube channel - a new BBC podcast with best friend and former teammate Alessia Russo, further underlined her big-game reputation with a stunning goal absolutely worthy of the day. A customary FA Cup goal from Rachel Williams, who won the cup with Birmingham back in 2012 and has been determined to get her hands on it again ever since, was followed by a Lucia Garcia brace.

But somewhere in the shadows of the celebrations, there was also something akin to a relief.

The club walked the second tier Women's Championship in their debut season in 2018/19, but the name 'Manchester United' naturally demands success and the last five years have been about trying to muscle in on the English football’s established 'big three'.

At times, they have managed it, leading the WSL for some of 2020/21 under former manager Casey Stoney. Then, 12 months ago, Marc Skinner's United were two agonising 1-0 defeats to Chelsea away from completing a remarkable WSL and FA Cup double.

United have competed with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal in patches, finishing above the latter two last season. Chelsea remained the last to be conquered, even in just a one-off game, until that finally happened in the semi-final of this season's competition.

And while fans last year were hopeful of causing an upset as the underdog, there was a nervousness amongst the pre-match buzz in the blistering sun around Wembley from those of a red persuasion in case, now favourites, they slipped up. Spurs, who had never beaten United in 12 previous meetings, did threaten to in as recently as last month in a 2-2 draw in the WSL - only a last gasp equaliser from Maya Le Tissier prevented what would have been an unprecedented defeat in this fixture.

Ultimately, the thing hanging still over United coming into this game was silverware, or the lack of it.

Ella Toone
Ella Toone got the ball rolling in spectacular fashion / Julian Finney/GettyImages

There was a degree of controversy before kick-off as news filtered through that Sir Jim Ratcliffe had chosen to spend his afternoon at Old Trafford for the largely meaningless men's Premier League clash with Arsenal, rather then support the women in person at Wembley - a video message was sent. Avram Glazer and what were described as other 'senior INEOS representatives' were in attendance.

Skinner named ten of the 11 players that started the semi-final in his lineup - there were seven survivors who had started the 2023 final last May. Williams, so often seen as an impact sub throughout her time with United, was given her chance from the outset after such a huge role in the club’s return to Wembley - four goals in the competition this season.

The heat of the sun was sapping, resulting in a drinks break in either half of the final. But United began well, with Toone linking up with Leah Galton inside the first couple of minutes. Galton had scored, but seen it disallowed inside 60 seconds against Chelsea 12 months ago, but the final ball was just a little too far in front of her and 50/50 challenge with Spurs goalkeeper Becky Spencer ended in a corner and no more. Williams threatened in the first half to do what she later would with headers that missed the target. Millie Turner, rising in slow motion above a crowd of players in the box, also saw a goal-bound header cleared just in front of the line.

With Spurs offering little threat, Skinner's side had edged the first half by the time the fourth official signalled three minutes of stoppage time, albeit without finding a goal. That changed in an instant when Toone, scorer of quarter-final, semi-final and final goals for England across the last two summers, channelled something really special to break the deadlock.

The move was fittingly carved out of 'The United Way', a rapid counter attack that took play from back to front in a matter of seconds. Hannah Blundell won the ball near her own penalty area, with Lisa Naalsund's reverse pass in midfield putting Toone into acres of space in front of the back four. She drove forward, feinted inside an attempted tackle and curled the ball majestically into the top corner, beyond the reach of Spencer and into the corner, with a devilish bit of help from Williams as she bumped into the onrushing defender that stopped the possible attempt at a block. Spurs players were furious, pointing to the replays on the big screen, but even with VAR in use there no intervention.

The longer the game was level at 0-0, the more it would have buoyed Tottenham. As much of a boost for United going into the break, it was an enormously deflating time to go behind.

There have been a few occasions this season when United have failed to capitalise on leads and put games to bed - Liverpool, West Ham, even Tottenham themselves mere weeks ago. Any remaining nerves among supporters dissipated in the space of three second half minutes. Williams, made sure her impact wasn't done, rising highest at the far post to expertly direct a header into the bottom corner of the goal. There aren't many players built like her in the women's game and Spurs couldn't really handle her boundless energy, even at the age of 36, or her bulldozing style.

Garcia, named player of the match, was gifted the third United goal as Tottenham's resistance fully crumbled on a tough lesson in their maiden Wembley appearance. High pressing was rewarded when Spencer miscued a pass out from the back straight to her in the penalty area and the Spaniard could hardly miss in the biggest game of her career. Her second firmly killed the game off and ensured the Red Devils would enjoy the moment in style, firing high into the net when Lisa Naalsund forced her way into the box and laid the ball back for Garcia, who got to the ball before defenders closed in.

United fans had dripped off as soon as the final whistle blew a year ago, finding it too painful to watch Chelsea lift the FA Cup. This time, it was Spurs fans who quickly cleared out as all those dressed in red waited eagerly to see Katie Zelem lift the trophy high. On the pitch, the champagne sprayed as Mary Earps, still yet to resolve her future beyond next month, soaked her teammates, while Williams, covered herself from head to toe in the foil streamers that littered the turf.

But the feeling at United is this is the start, not the peak, delivered by Skinner talking to BBC One.

"We are history makers for Manchester United," he said. "I didn't need to remind the owners of that. There is a lot of support and love for our team and the growth. We want to compete for titles but you all know how important adding that first piece of silverware is. We've got nothing but growth ahead."