Reading Women FC opened the first and last ever WSL1 Spring Season on Saturday, after a pre-season that has seen numerous departures and arrivals at the club, and has felt longer than a 2 week holiday in a caravan in the rain in north Wales.
Arrivals over the pre-season were:
Rachel Furness (not Gemma, Brian!), Brooke Chaplen, Anna Green, Mandy Van Den Berg (not Mary, Brian!) and Anissa Lahmari.
Pretty much all of the newbies featured in the squad for the match, with the exception of Mandy, who was assumedly injured. The resulting formation was a three-at-the-back, with two pushed-on wing-backs type affair, featuring Kirsty McGee, Anna Green and Harriet Scott in the middle and Becky Jane and Rachel Rowe pushing on. Melissa Fletcher was up top on her Jack Jones, with Lauren Bruton and Brooke Chaplen supporting and Rachel Furness and Charlie Estcourt completing the midfield. Mary Earps was in goal, of course.
The first half was an interesting affair with Bristol playing very wide going forwards and Reading seemingly playing very narrow when defending! Full credit to the newly-promoted Vixens as they appeared to be the ones moving forward a bit quicker and showing more confidence on the ball.
Emslie herself had the best chances of the first half
They were particularly successful in getting through the gaps between our centre backs and wing backs. On our side of the pitch Claire Emslie was generally hugging the touchline with no Reading player within 15 metres of her – the tactic of leaving her out there loosely marked worked most of the time, but on a few occasions she was found well and darted through the gaps to run in on goal. Emslie herself had the best chances of the first half as she drew a really good save out of Earps when one on one, and also hit the woodwork with a decent strike. Melissa Fletcher also struck well as half-time approached but her shot sailed narrowly over. Honours were even at half time, and we were hoping for an injection of something in the second half as it had felt a little flat for a season opener.
After a pretty even first half, Reading made a change in style by bringing on Remi Allen in place of Charlie at half time. Although Charlie had played well, the change seemed to pay dividends as Bristol suddenly had less time on the ball so were less able to pick out their through balls, as they had done to good effect in the first half. After a bit of sustained Reading pressure a looped corner was met really well in the air by Rachel Furness on 48 minutes who headed back across the goal and into the top corner.
Reading were now in the ascendancy and their dominance paid off again on 58 minutes when Rachel Rowe jinked through the defence and slotted a low curling shot into the bottom right corner to make it 2-0 to the Royals. Bristol were be no means out of the game, but Reading’s attacking play was just that bit more clinical. Their scoring was complete on 62 minutes when Melissa capitalised on some persistence in the box from Rachel Furness and was able to poke home into an empty net from close range with 2 City defenders not able to get back on their feet quickly enough to clear following a good old-fashioned scramble.
After a pretty even first half, and considering how hard it was to find the net last season, Reading hitting 3 goals in just 17 minutes of the second half was pretty awesome to watch and (almost!) completely erased the memory of that defeat to Doncaster on the last day of last season!
To their credit, Bristol never gave up and they deservedly grabbed a consolation goal on 74 minutes, when Lauren Hemp found ever-so-slightly too much space in the box and slotted home to make it 3-1. The second half also saw a cameo from Anissa Lahmari who came on for Brooke and showed some really promising signs, with some good movement and quality ball control, so she should be one to watch in the coming weeks as she adapts to the English game.
All of the debutants made an excellent first impression during the match – Anna Green looked really composed at the back and always made time on the ball, Brooke Chaplen was lively and put some good phases together going forwards and Anissa Lahmari looked quality when she came on. Rachel Furness, however, stood out for me – she was superb from start to finish in every area of the pitch and looks to be an excellent signing. Considering her injury setback last season she has done incredibly well to get back to such good form so quickly! She also appears to be a natural leader on the pitch, which I think will be a good thing as the season progresses.
The other stand out performance for me was from Lauren Bruton. She worked tirelessly, always wanted the ball, was positive in possession and tough in the tackle. Most importantly, I predicted in the match preview that she would have a key role to play and that is the first prediction that I’ve actually got right! Thanks Lauren!
‘If faced with a polar bear in the wild, the bear would brick itself and run away. True story.’
Also an honourable mention, as always, to Caversham’s finest Harriet Scott who doesn’t know how to shirk 50/50 challenges. If faced with a polar bear in the wild, the bear would brick itself and run away. True story.
Overall, it was nice to actually really enjoy a Reading Women game again today. Yes, the opposition aren’t as strong as many we will face over the coming 6 weeks but it shows what we can do when we get it right and gives us all a lot to look forward to for the rest of the season.
With a bit of uncertainty back in the women’s game following Sunderland’s decision to go back to part-time status and the awful news that Notts County have had to wind up their club, I think it’s important this season to enjoy the game for its best qualities. Attacking, fast-paced, passionate football played by people that care about the game and are happy to give the fans a bit of time, and watched by people that are there because they love watching football.
We scored 3 goals, played some exciting football and are top of the league for a few hours. That’ll do me nicely! Next up is Liverpool away on Friday, before the first of our 3 home games against Chelsea on 3rd May…