This was a statement performance by Manchester United, and one that might indicate that the WSL is ready for another club at its top table.
Champions Chelsea looked shaken for spells on Sunday and the early indications are that Casey Stoney can make good on her promise to narrow the gap with the cemented top three.
The Blues have shared this trophy with Manchester City and Arsenal since 2015 and, while that should ultimately remain the case, results against United may prove the determining factor. For Stoney, that is certainly progress at a club in only its third year of existence and now in possession of a first ever point taken off the big guns.
Leah Galton of Manchester United Women celebrates scoring their equaliser on Sunday
Chelsea Goalkeeper Carly Telford (right) fails to stop Manchester United’s Galton (centre)
‘It was going to take every ounce from us,’ Stoney said. ‘We removed the fear and had a go. We stood up to them. There was more belief, a stronger mentality.’
United were the better side after going a goal down to Sam Kerr, Leah Galton’s late equaliser exactly what they deserved for forcing Chelsea into awkward areas with sustained counter-pressing.
A little bit of extra cutting edge and the hosts might have nicked it, while Stoney will wonder what United might be able to achieve this term with experienced USA internationals, Tobin Heath and Christen Press, expected to arrive in the coming days and offer more attacking ingenuity.
‘I’m a bit gutted because we could’ve gone onto win that,’ Galton said. ‘It’s a big result, isn’t it? It sets us up well. We can take real confidence from this.
Manchester United’s Galton celebrates scoring their goal with teammates at Leigh Village
‘We knew that we wanted to get into the top three and that shows we can be. We’ve got extra belief this year. If we can perform like that on the opening day then we can go far.’
For Chelsea, it is a setback after both City and Arsenal won on the opening weekend. They ought to have been out of sight before Galton’s equaliser 11 minutes from time, sliding home Jackie Groenen’s cross. Like during last weekend’s Community Shield, Kerr missed a glut of presentable opportunities, while Erin Cuthbert was denied by Mary Earps after ghosting in at the back post.
‘We got a bit complacency,’ Chelsea boss Emma Hayes said. ‘We played poorly but had the majority of chances. We’re champions and we’ve top-class players here. I think we had an off day.’
Chelsea’s Samantha Kerr (left) celebrates scoring her side’s only goal of the game
Kerr’s goal, though, will hold particular resonance for Fran Kirby, who squared for the Australian on her first WSL appearance since November, when diagnosed with Pericarditis and told she may never play again.
Kirby ‘feels like a new signing’ and Chelsea’s response to winning the league has been to spend again, Wolfsburg’s Pernille Harder the most high-profile capture for a world-record £300,000. She remained a substitute until late on, when Chelsea started to carve more chances, but they could not breach United again.
‘It’s incredible for our league that we can attract players of this ilk,’ Hayes added. ‘But when you create chances you have to kill the game off. Then again, how many teams will play poorly here and get a result?’
Kerr of Chelsea scores the opening goal at the Leigh Sports Village on Sunday afternoon