Why Alessia Russo was substituted in Man Utd's FA Cup semi-final win

Alessia Russo scored but only played 78 minutes as Man Utd beat Brighton in the Women's FA Cup semi-final
Alessia Russo scored but only played 78 minutes as Man Utd beat Brighton in the Women's FA Cup semi-final / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Manchester United manager Marc Skinner admitted the decision to withdraw Alessia Russo when his team were searching for the winning goal against Brighton in Saturday’s Women’s FA Cup semi-final was with one eye on keeping her fresh for the rest of the season.

Russo played 78 minutes of the five-goal thriller at Leigh Sports Village, scoring the goal that put United 2-1 ahead and looked like it might be enough to get them to Wembley for the first time.

But Danielle Carter equalised for Brighton, who had originally taken a surprise lead in the first half, to make it 2-2 with just 15 minutes left to play.

Russo is United’s joint top scorer this season with 10 goals in all competitions and had played well as she ground down the Seagulls defence. Despite missing earlier chances, her finish high into the net at the near post was impressively clinical.

But Skinner turned to Rachel Williams in pursuit of the winner. The veteran striker had dug United out of a hole with a last-minute goal against Reading in the WSL earlier this season and was absolutely determined to get to another FA Cup final – she scored as Birmingham beat Chelsea in 2012.

In the 89th minute, she came up big again, played in by Katie Zelem and keeping her cool to win it.

Read the latest Women's FA Cup news here


Skinner and his staff had planned to make the change earlier than they actually did, but delayed it once Russo herself had scored and then opted to do it quickly after the Carter equaliser.

“Alessia had a lot of minutes with England. It’s just making sure, going into this run-in, that we’ve got all of our players available,” the United boss explained was the reasoning.

“What a wonderful finish,” he said of Russo’s goal. “We asked her at half-time to stay focused on a moment that would happen and she took it magnificently. It was more about preservation and also the fact we knew Rachel could impact the game like she does.”

After the joys of the semi-final win, United will have to immediately refocus for a huge WSL clash with Arsenal at Leigh Sports Village on Wednesday night. Victory in that game would put them six points clear of the Gunners, who are themselves also balancing two competitions as they eye a Champions League semi-final first leg against Wolfsburg only days later.

But defeat for United could be disastrous in the title race and hunt for a top three finish, given just how close it is between the top four – only three points separate all four of them as it stands.

For more from Jamie Spencer, follow him on Twitter!