Ella Toone’s wonder goal decides the Women’s FA Cup final and the future of Manchester United

Ella Toone celebrates her opening goal (AFP/Getty)

Wembley was hot and Ella Toone was red in the face, the frustration at missed chances in the Women’s FA Cup final clearly visible. While Tottenham held Hotspur, Manchester United risked history repeating itself. These are the days that can pass you by, that can slip by under the glare of the May sun. But then, right on the stroke of halftime, everything changed. Once again it was Toone who took the lead. With a special goal from the edge of the penalty area at the end of a thrilling sequence, it was Toone who shattered the illusion that United and Spurs shared a level playing field in the meeting of potential first-time winners. An outrageous strike made for a one-sided final.

Toone seems to be doing well on the big stage and once again made a decisive contribution. The 24-year-old midfielder scored for the fourth time in her seventh appearance at Wembley, adding to goals in the European Championship final against Germany, the Finalissima against Brazil and a last-minute winner against the Netherlands in the Nations League. But this was her most important goal for United, a moment of class and quality to brighten any Wembley occasion, achieved after she grabbed the cup final by the scruff of the neck and turned it to her will.

Toone's goal found the top corner (Reuters)Toone's goal found the top corner (Reuters)

Toone’s goal found the top corner (Reuters)

For United, the pain of last year’s defeat to Chelsea was turned into the joy of an afternoon parade. There was relief for Marc Skinner, the manager who would have been under even more pressure had he finished in fifth place in the WSL, followed by successive defeat in the FA Cup final. Skinner had the United faithful to thank, in Toone for her stunning opener, and captain Katie Zelem for a composed display in midfield and a series of set-piece deliveries that caused chaos in the Tottenham box all afternoon. Mary Earps had been the hero as United took revenge on Chelsea in the semi-final. As against Emma Hayes’ side, Rachel Williams and Lucia Garcia were both on target – the Spaniard putting the final out of doubt with her late double.

It quickly became an occasion where Tottenham looked impressed. Their naivete in attack was followed by a lack of concentration in defense as they finally got the goal United had threatened all afternoon. Zelem’s ball from wide found Williams, who rose at the third attempt and headed into the far corner. For Williams, 14 years after winning the FA Cup with Birmingham City, it marked a full-circle moment: another FA Cup champion, this time in front of a crowd of 76,082. There would be more painful memories for Tottenham goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer, also an FA Cup winner with Williams in 2012, when she went straight to Garcia. The third was a gift for United and Garica would plunder a fourth.

Garcia added United's third and fourth goals at Wembley (Adam Davy/PA Wire)Garcia added United's third and fourth goals at Wembley (Adam Davy/PA Wire)

Garcia added United’s third and fourth goals at Wembley (Adam Davy/PA Wire)

Before kick-off, Tottenham, who hit the crossbar late on through captain Bethany England, were able to walk down Wembley Way and enjoy the sunlight of a first Women’s FA Cup final; for United this was a match with a harder edge, a match that would ultimately determine whether their season had been a success or a failure, that could define the future and eras. Sir Jim Ratcliffe was absent, the United presence in the Royal Box led by Avram Glazer. Daniel Levy was there for Spurs; Ossie Ardilles and Ricardo Villa, the Argentine cult heroes of Tottenham’s 1981 FA Cup victory, represented the club’s glorious past. Yet the women’s team at Spurs has only existed within the club since 1991. At United, the incarnation of this team was only born in 2018.

It now has silverware in it. At full-time, Toone ran back onto the field with his arms raised. Earps spoke of a “difficult season” that now has a golden ending and could also change the direction of the club. United, as if they felt it, started well and showed their authority. Toone’s sensational strike was even foreshadowed in the opening moments of the final. The midfielder created United’s first chance from what was their opening passage, moving forward from the halfway line after a neat interaction between Jayde Riviere and Lisa Naaslund. Toone slid inside Leah Galton, who was denied by goalkeeper Spencer, and covered her corners well at the near post.

The attendance at the cup final was greater than that of Man United's men at Old Trafford the same afternoon (Reuters)The attendance at the cup final was greater than that of Man United's men at Old Trafford the same afternoon (Reuters)

The attendance at the cup final was greater than that of Man United’s men at Old Trafford the same afternoon (Reuters)

It led to the first of several deliveries from United captain Zelem that caused panic in the Tottenham box. Spurs struggled to clear but United failed to capitalize. Williams headed twice off goal, Garcia headed over from two yards out, while Evalina Summanen reacted bravely to keep her off goal. Toone himself lifted over the bar from close range, after a knockdown from Williams. Millie Turner’s attempt was then cleared off the line by Martha Thomas. Spurs were just a stone’s throw away from halftime.

This was a proud day for the club and the first chorus of “Come on You Spurs” echoed beautifully from the other side. United’s growing anxiety was evident, in hasty passes and speculative shots from outside the area. Spurs are a smart, lively team, full of switches and rotations. But their plan under Robert Vilahamn left Spurs open to the counter-attack. As Hannah Blundell made a sharp interception to intercept a pass from Jessica Naz on the edge of the penalty area, Tottenham were caught with too many attackers, too big a gap between defense and attack.

United kicked into gear and gleefully accepted the chance to attack into space. The tenacious midfielder Summanen was isolated and beaten into Toone by Nasslund’s precise ball. From then on, Toone created the cup final moment all by himself, darting forward and diving into the recovering Summanen as she slid in on the edge of the box, with a bending, dipping drive into the top corner. Toone ran back to the bench, holding the badge and roaring with delight. After Williams and Garcia took the final past Spurs, it’s easy to forget how much tension there had been before. Toone again left nothing to chance.

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