Derby defeat piles pressure on Man United boss Marc Skinner

MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United manager Marc Skinner admitted a statement win was needed heading into the derby at Manchester City. A big win would have reignited his hopes of clinching a place in Europe for next season and maybe assured his future with the Women’s Super League club. But after a lacklustre performance, resulting in a 3-1 loss at the Etihad Stadium, the pressure is piling on the United boss.

“Pressure is something you have to deal with every day at Manchester United; it’s everywhere,” Skinner said postmatch. “From our perspective, pressure is in everything that is at Manchester United and it makes you better, and it makes you learn, and it makes you stronger.

“As much as it hurts right now, I know that this team, where we’re heading, and this club, specifically, will rise to levels that we all want, and we’ll be up there for consistencies because there’s a real energy behind us.”

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Skinner would have needed no reminder of the tightrope he is walking. His record this season, claiming only one point from a possible 15 against the teams in the WSL’s top three, proves he is still struggling to find an answer to the question of how to bridge the gap to the WSL top three consistently. And with his contract set to expire at the end of this season, the poor performance will not help his case to United part-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe that he is the man to lead the team next season.

“If you know anything about my character, I’m a fighter,” he continued. “So I’m going to put myself in a position where I can make this team the best in the land. That’s my that’s my personal responsibility.”

Ahead of the derby, Skinner was focused on his future plans for the club. Rather than addressing the issues his players have faced and their apparent lack of conviction on the pitch, his attention turned to the long-term, his plans for the transfer windows, and his insistence that he has no doubt about where the team is headed.

“In all honesty, a statement win would be great,” he said ahead of the fixture. “We know exactly where the project is going. Everyone judges us against what we did last year, and we were ahead of schedule on that last year. We have no doubt that once we do the recruitment we want to do within the summer and the next window and when we get our players back fit for the whole season, I have no doubt where we will be.”

Despite making marquee signings in the summer such as Geyse and Hinata Miyazawa, Skinner was hit by a string of injuries, ruling key members of his side out. Skinner still fielded a high-quality XI at the Etihad, but his bench lacked depth and United struggled to counter City’s dominance once they got going.

If City had been pulled up for Khadija “Bunny” Shaw being offside in the build-up to Jess Park‘s opening goal, United might have gone into half-time level. However, given City’s tenacity, it was unlikely. Once the ball had barrelled into the back of the net, the hosts sparked into life. Park added a second goal just before half-time; this one was onside, and 30 seconds into the second half, Shaw added a third that sealed her status as City’s all-time record goal scorer.

It was far too late for United to try and find a way back into the game by that point. It was almost 70 minutes before Manchester United began to really test City’s organised defence. Huffing and puffing, they were unable to break through until Hannah Blundell‘s shot took a big deflection into the back of the net. The consolation goal was not enough to spark a mammoth comeback that would have been required to claim the derby, leaving United in torrid waters.

In recent months, fans have cried out on social media for a new manager, some even taking “Skinner Out” banners to games. With fans against the manager and the team now six points behind third-placed Arsenal, who play on Sunday, Skinner’s hopes for Europe and a new contract are skating on thin ice.

City have now won all three derbies this season (3-1 in the reverse fixture and 2-1 in the Conti Cup), and manager Gareth Taylor is pretty much guaranteed a top-three finish. In City’s quest for a first WSL title since 2016, this win is a statement for reigning champions Chelsea. Taylor was rewarded for his consistency this season with a new three-year deal earlier in the month and temporarily, City sit three points above the six-time winners.

Skinner must hope that Sunday’s Merseyside derby ends in a Liverpool loss. United have never finished below fourth since joining the WSL in 2019 but Liverpool have been breathing down United’s necks. A win for the Reds could see them leapfrog United, forcing the side that finished second last season into fifth place and Skinner into a tough spot.