Sunday saw the penultimate home game of the season at Adam’s Park as reigning WSL2 Champions Reading FC Women took on reigning WSL1 Champions Chelsea.
There were a small number of changes made from the last emotional home game against Liverpool, most strikingly with Reading wearing their hi visibility away shirt as unfortunately our home kit clashes with both Chelsea’s blue home and white away shirts and seemingly Chelsea don’t have a third kit! Other visible changes included the choir / band / x-factor wannabees being relocated from the terrace behind the goal to the main stand.
The line up was almost the same as the Liverpool game, apart from Melissa Fletcher coming in for Jade Boho-Sayo up top and Lois Roche replacing Sophie Perry on the bench. It was a team based around defensive ability and fitness, both of which seem to have been key factors in selection this season, as Reading have continued to try to keep it tight.
The Royals started really brightly today with some lovely passing and quick interplay, especially down the right hand side. Melissa Fletcher made lots of good runs and looked very keen to be involved. Both teams created some decent chances within the first twenty minutes – Karen Carney and Melissa Fletcher both saw their headers narrowly missing the target before Fletcher had a golden opportunity to put Reading in front after some excellent work from Emma Follis had put her through. Unfortunately the ball was dinked just over and wide of the far post – a pretty big let-off for Chelsea. Katie Chapman had her own great chance at the other end where she should have done better with a header.
The Reading game plan worked well in the first half, and there were a handful of times when they broke quickly in decent numbers, only to lack the necessary cutting edge to make the visitors pay. Had goals been flowing in recent weeks The Royals probably would have converted at least one of their chances, but as it was half-time came with the score at 0-0.
Reading’s hard work was undone unfortunately on 53 minutes following a pretty innocuous challenge on the edge of the box which led to a Chelsea free kick. Carney sent across a nicely weighted free kick which picked out Chapman who found herself in acres of space in the box and calmly headed home for a lead which they probably hadn’t quite deserved at that stage.
Harriet Scott took matters into her own hands a few minutes later as she powered infield from left back and fired off a cracking strike from 25 yards which narrowly missed the post. When Harriet is charging at you it’s like stopping a runaway train and no one got anywhere near to halting her! Gilly Flaherty had a couple of headed chances to double Chelsea’s advantage shortly afterwards but both went wide of Mary Earps’ goal, meaning Reading were still very much in it with 15 minutes remaining.
The Royals made a couple of changes soon after, as defensive midfielder Kayleigh Hines replaced Molly Bartrip and defender / midfielder Nia Jones replaced Melissa Fletcher up front. On paper they might not have looked like attacking substitutions, but Nia does offer something different up top, as long as she has goalscorers around her to profit from her strength and hold up play.
Reading did keep the pressure on Chelsea but without really carving out any golden opportunities for an equaliser, but with 4 minutes injury time signalled anything was still possible.
Unfortunately for Reading this possibility included two late goals from Chelsea! The first came from a darting run by Gemma Davison which enabled her to just get the wrong side of Harriet and drive into the box. Kylie McCarthy appeared to be unceremoniously yanked out of the way by a Chelsea attacker leaving a large gap for Davison to run into before firing neatly past Mary Earps from inside the box. Game over.
To add insult to injury Ana Borges added Chelsea’s third when she placed a low, slow shot passed Earps’ outstretched arm to give a final score of 3-0. It was by no means a 3-0 type of game and Reading could easily have taken a point with more confidence and precision in the final third, especially based on their first half performance.
It has been noticeable in recent games that opposition teams have identified Emma Follis as being a key player for Reading and have marked her accordingly. Looking back, aside from Helen Ward’s penalty against Sunderland and screamer against Notts County you’d have to go back to the first league game of the season for a Reading goal that wasn’t either scored by or created by Emma – and that was scored direct from a Lois Roche free kick!
Reading will need to find a way to create more clear cut chances in their remaining 3 matches if they are to pick up a win before the season is done. But they have two golden opportunities against a Donny Belles side that have already conceded 32 goals in 10 matches.
It looks like those two matches will decide Reading’s WSL1 future, but as long as Donny don’t win their 3 games in hand the Royals should have already wrapped up survival by the time the final game of the season comes on 6th November at Adam’s Park.
All in all Reading were excellent in patches again today, defended really well but lacked that killer instinct up front, once again. One thing is for sure – Millie Bright’s mum really didn’t enjoy the singing and drumming today, so there’s one player we shouldn’t expect to see in the blue and white hoops in the future!!
Next up for The Royals is Donny away on 24th September, where Reading won in memorable style last season. Let’s hope for more of the same this time around!