A month of lockdown throughout November coupled with the return of fans meant there was much anticipation surrounding the game against a bottom of the table Bristol on Sunday. It seemed rather fitting that the Madejski was to welcome fans back to the stadium to play the same opponents as the last time they played here in front of a crowd. A 6 goal thriller on Women’s Football Weekend in 2019 with the game ending 3-3 at full time. Reading would have been confident of a win as they entered into the weekend.
We spoke with a couple of fans on Twitter before the game to find out how they were feeling about returning to the stadium ahead of the game, @RFCWFans had the following to say, “We are over the moon that we can attend Reading Women home games at the Madejski. The club has been working hard getting the ground open for fans to attend. Lets get behind the girls and [following] the instructions, with masks, social distance etc.”, whilst Paul Tuson (@wotapickle) whose wife plays for Caversham AFC Ladies, enthusiastically remarked, “Looking forward to live action and a change from watching my wife’s/daughters’ matches! C’mon The Royals…”
Fans were evidently elated to be back in the stadium as they filtered in slowly but surely in the hour leading up to the 2pm kick off and a Royal roar echoed round as the team made their way onto the pitch led by captain, Natasha Harding. Fara Williams was back in the starting line up with Harding and Danielle Carter upfront as manager Kelly Chambers mixed things up with a 4-3-2-2 formation, as opposed to the usual 4-1-2-1-2. All players and match officials took the knee as a show of solidarity before kick off and it was met with a round of applause by all those in the East Stand.
Reading were all cylinders firing as the referee blew the whistle for kick off and with barely 3 minutes on the clock gone, before Angharad James had fired a shot on goal. More chances created by Harding, Amalie Eikeland with some silky passing from Jess Fishlock in the midfield. Reading dominated possession in the first 15 minutes, Bristol made their first attempt at goal in the 17th minute as Charlie Wellings strode down the left wing but her efforts fell short and the shot hit the side netting.
More striking attempts from the Reading squad as Fishlock, Harding and Kristine Leine all aimed for goal and Bristol were left down to ten players temporarily as Gemma Evans was attended to by medical staff for a cut to the eye. The Royals looked far hungrier in all aspects of the game as they pushed for possession and product in front of the goal. Harding with a huge change in the 6 yard box but a fingertip save from Bristol keeper Sophie Baggaley meant the ball hit the crossbar and a 1-0 lead was denied. Reading, relentless, with their press saw Carter 1 on 1 with the keeper just minutes later but she was unable to get the ball out from under her feet quick enough. It looked as though Reading were in on goal in the 42nd minute as a corner connected with Harding’s head which made its way directly to Fishlock, who vollied a fierce shot but it was saved once again by Baggaley. Bristol punished on the counter, Evans catching the Baggaley save on the turn and poking a soaring pass over Reading to Wellings who used her pace to run the left wing before she squared the ball across the face of the goal to Emma Bissell.
Undeniable to see was exactly why Danielle Carter, when fit, was successful during her time at Arsenal given she was everywhere for Reading in the first half, but no doubt a stern word was had by Chambers at the break as the chances were there but the finish wasn’t. And whatever she said worked because just 5 minutes into the second half, a stunning strike by Williams hit the back of the net as cheers from the crowd rang through the Madejski. Opportunities came thick and fast with attempts on goal by our Welsh wonders Lily Woodham, Harding and Fishlock but Reading were unable to convert, as Baggaley executed expert goalkeeping skills time after time, worthy of an England call up we’d argue.
Grace Moloney, fresh off the back of her impressive performance between the sticks for Republic of Ireland against Germany in the UEFA Women’s Championship, had a relatively quiet game, only one more attempt by the Vixens star player Ebony Salmon saw Slough girl Moloney tested. But Salmon was unable to make the most of the chance and the ball was skied over the crossbar and into the empty South stand. Some vital blocks defensively by Cooper in the final minutes of the game and the scoreline finished 1-1 at the ref’s whistle.
A frustrating afternoon for the Royals, with 33 shots and 14 on target, this should’ve been Reading’s victory for the taking. Kelly Chambers animated in her post-match discussions with the squad as they listened intently to the manager. The result is the fourth 1-all scoreline for Reading in as many games and they’ll be no let up as they face top of the table Manchester United this coming Sunday. Nonetheless, fans seemed truly thankful to be back in the stadium as they applauded the players once more as they left the field and will be back for more as they support the Royals WSL campaign this season.