Manchester United Women 2-1 Aston Villa Women: Nikita Parris double eases pressure on Marc Skinner

Nikita Parris

Nikita Parris scored twice as Manchester United beat Aston Villa in the Women's Super League to ease the pressure on manager Marc Skinner.

Parris headed United in front at Leigh Sports Village before scoring a rebound after Lucia Garcia struck the post.

Rachel Daly pulled one back for Villa from the penalty spot but United held on for their first league win of 2024.

United are 10 points behind WSL leaders Chelsea after inflicting Villa's first league loss since the winter break.

After weathering early Villa pressure, United took the lead after eight minutes when Parris flicked Garcia's inswinging cross from the left across goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar and inside the far post.

United then assumed control and doubled their lead as Garcia and Parris combined again.

The Spanish winger's curling shot from the edge of the area on 33 minutes was well tipped onto the post by Van Domselaar, but Parris was quickest to the rebound and slammed the ball into the empty net.

Villa improved after the break, and got back in the game after Daly went over in the area under pressure from Garcia following a corner. The England striker took the spot-kick herself and fired past Lionesses team-mate Mary Earps.

Parris at the double for United

It has been a tough few weeks for United manager Skinner so this victory - their first league win since 10 December - is a much-needed boost to their slim title hopes.

That lean spell has seen United slide out of the WSL title race and some fans call for the dismissal of Skinner, who is out of contract at the end of the season.

He needed a big response from his senior players and got it from Parris, now United's top WSL scorer this season with six goals.

England forward Parris was brought into the starting XI in place of Leah Galton and she led the line, with Brazilian forward Geyse pushed wide as United adopted a more attacking shape than they had away to Chelsea.

"The reality is whenever Nikita is not a regular it's only because of a tactical situation, it's nothing to do with her," Skinner said after the match.

"I think she is in fantastic form. You can talk about running and you can talk about form, but she's almost pre-empting where the ball is going to be.

"The header is fantastic and the second one is reading the situation and showing her experience. She's a key player for us and she's become a key player based on her performances. She will play more and is a real key member in our team."

Villa 'dominated second half' - Ward

The introduction of Parris paid dividends for United as they strode to victory against a Villa side whose dreadful record at United continued. Carla Ward's side have now lost all four of their WSL away games against United by an aggregate score of 15-1.

"It was a tale of two halves," said Ward. "We probably showed them a little bit too much respect in the first half. I thought we dominated the second half and were the better team.

"If we can continue to perform in the way we are we will continue to climb up the table. My girls were outstanding and deserve a huge amount of credit and we probably did deserve a point today.

"We've got to continue working hard. We have been excellent in the last couple of months but you can't show too much respect like we did in the first half and that will be the bit that is annoying us."

The defeat ends a bad week for Villa, who had won four of their last five fixtures to move away from relegation danger and came into this fixture with hopes of piling further misery on United.

Noelle Maritz started this fixture, after appearing in the League Cup win over Sunderland in midweek despite being cup-tied from appearances for Arsenal earlier this season in the competition, to leave Villa in hot water.