Skinner defiant in victory as bold choices pay off

Pressure on Marc Skinner to deliver for Manchester United has grown throughout the season but when he walked into his news conference, holding the FA Cup trophy and buoyed by their success, he brought a sense of defiance with him too.

Question marks over his future - with his contract set to run out in the summer - were high on the agenda, but beating Tottenham to win the club's first major women's trophy was a big tick in the box.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, chairman of Ineos - who have a minority shareholding in United - may not have been present at Wembley but Skinner knows this was a significant statement to make as the club enters a new era of ownership.

There have been banners calling for Skinner's sacking by some fans as United, runners-up in the Women's Super League last season, have dropped to fifth this year, suffering defeats in all four league matches against rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.

It would be understandable, then, if Skinner felt relief at full-time.

Under pressure, he had delivered silverware - an expectation all fans had at the start of the season and something Ratcliffe is already demanding.

But Skinner responded: “Never relief, never. We don’t live in that moment. I’m happy with the job I’m doing at Manchester United."

It was a defiant statement.

He made bold decisions for the final, choosing to start 36-year-old striker Rachel Williams and leaving summer signings Geyse and Melvine Malard on the bench.

Nikita Parris, the club's top scorer in all competitions this season, was not in the starting XI either.

But it paid off as Williams, who also won the FA Cup with Birmingham City 12 years ago, was among those on the scoresheet as United thumped Tottenham 4-0.

Williams' signing two years ago raised eyebrows. She came from Spurs when they were still cementing their WSL status, and she was already a veteran of the game.

"I hope she goes down as an iconic player for Manchester United," said Skinner, as he reflected on her impact at Wembley.

"Remember all that rubbish we got when we signed her? Well, she’s turned that around, hasn’t she?

"She’s a fantastic person. For Rachel Williams, it’s another FA Cup story and I’m really proud of her."

'We have to deliver trophies'

Manchester United lift the trophy at Wembley
[Getty Images]

This was a deserved victory for Manchester United.

They knocked out defending champions Chelsea in the semi-finals and were the better side at Wembley.

Tottenham, under pressure on set-pieces and unable to implement their style, failed to manage a shot on target as they never responded after England international Ella Toone's stunning opener on the stroke of half-time.

Williams doubled United's lead and then a quick double from Lucia Garcia finished things off.

"Before the game, I felt we were in a really good space. I felt our players were ready. They didn’t overhype it," said Skinner.

"We fast-forward far too many times beyond the moment. It was nice to be present. I feel like I’m present in this moment and it’s one to enjoy."

But what can this historic success – their first Women’s FA Cup trophy – do for the future of the women’s team under Ineos’ ownership?

"It feels like a really positive space to be in. We know as a club we want to be winning titles,” said Skinner.

"I’ve just been really excited by the energy that it’s driving internally. It won’t be long until we’re talked about in the elite winning [space]. I know what’s coming and it’s an exciting time to be a Manchester United fan."

Skinner believes he’s the right man to guide them through the next chapter.

"I’m pretty good at times. I know people tell me I’m not, but I’m actually OK," said Skinner, as he reflected on his personal development this season.

"I’ve learned a lot about the mental resilience. You can’t be at Manchester United if you’re weak in your mind.

"We have to deliver trophies for an expectant fanbase and our supporters, who are the best in the world. That pressure is a privilege. Today we’ve done that. But there’s so much more to come.

"I believe in myself fully. I’m still a baby in terms of my career so I’ve got lots and lots to achieve. I feel the club are in fantastic hands and hopefully I’m here to be able to push forward with them."