Well we are back and what a couple of months it has been! FA Women's Super League 2 has been overloaded with action recently! With only nine points separating the top half of the table and nine games still to be played, it’s still very much wide open.
Reading FC Women are top of the table alongside Doncaster Rovers Belles but take the advantage with a better goal difference by six, mainly thanks to their own "mini Messi" Fran Kirby who netted five back when they faced London Bees and latest hotshot Emma Follis who claims seven of the 22 scored already.
Since we last met, our girls took on last season’s WSL 1 side Everton, table rivals Doncaster, unbeaten Millwall and Durham Women FC. Much to the fans delight they managed to rekindle their magic and were on top form, victorious in every single game.
As Everton arrived at Farnborough unbeaten and Doncaster Belles on the top of the table the fans were nervous for this must win game and Everton were first to scare with an early corner that reached Lucy Whipp; as the home fans held their breath they saw the shot go wide and exhaled but it was only four minutes later that Dan Turner saw her shot go wide of the post as well. The atmosphere was tense as a game of tennis took 37 minutes for the first ball to break the goal line. Lauren Bruton had put Reading FC Women in front as an Everton back pass was chased down by Helen Ward and passed on to the captain who took it across the line much to the relief of the fans.
As the girls returned to the pitch for the second half the fans had started to relax and their hopes of a win came to life as Bruton spotted Follis in the box who put the ball exactly where it needed to be. The lead was closed down almost instantly as Turner was brought down by Becky Jane in the box and was awarded a penalty and slotted it home past Gracy Moloney in goal to make it 2-1. Moloney was the game saver as Everton pushed for the equaliser late in to the second have brilliantly saving a shot and Reading FC Women took the three points closing in on Doncaster Rovers Belles who were up next.
Top of the table clash
The girls travelled up north to the Keepmoat Stadium as Doncaster Rovers Belles awaited their challengers, three points clear at the top of the table; this was another must win game for the girls and a couple of goals would put them at the top. A good number of travelling fans made the journey and even some Northern Royals took the chance to see their much loved team take on the big rivals for what was to be an incredible battle regardless of the end result.
Another side that were so far unbeaten, Reading FC Women were fired up from their last win and ready to do the same. Even more tense than the last game the possession constantly switched between the rival teams as both goalkeepers pretty much looked on to a game stuck in the middle of the pitch. The home side almost got the advantage at the start of the second half when the Belles broke and put a chip over Moloney; much to the Royals delight the ball went wide. Next it was Reading’s turn to break as Bruton thought "anything the Belles can do we can do better", spotting Nicola Hobbs off her line she lobbed the goalkeeper and in it went for a 1-0 lead! The visitors had managed to silence the Belles just like the Royals Drummer had in the crowd.
Bianca Bragg came on for Helen Ward just after the second half started and not long after the 60 minute mark she spotted Hobbs off her line again and blasted an absolute blinder from 45 yards out into the back of the net! The Royals went wild in the stands as the girls were steaming into the lead and to the top of the table but they were not finished just yet! Leandra Little handled in the box and gave Reading FC Women a penalty and there was only one person who was going to place the ball down and in the back of the net. Bruton stepped up and tucked the ball home for the third and final goal of the game. The Belles were shocked and Reading FC Women now owned the top spot by goal difference.
Back to the Mad Stad
With two games to go before the break, the girls were on fire and nothing was going to scare them, they invited Millwall to the Madejski Stadium and the fans came in their hundreds as the crowd was just short of 1,000 to witness them claim a win against another as of yet unbeaten side. The atmosphere was electric and even Fran Kirby took a break from the England camp before jetting off to Canada to support her fellow team mates. With their run of form the girls were confident and Becky Jane nearly opened the scoring early on, however, did not manage to finish but it wasn't long as on 11 minutes Bianca Bragg helped Emma Follis through who added to her goals and Reading were up 1-0 much to the delight of 879 fans that made the journey despite an incident on the M4 causing a 15 minute delay to kick off.
That was it for the first half but nine minutes after the second half started Harriet Scott put the girls two up and much to her delight, ran straight for Kirby in the dugout to celebrate. After the game, Scott joked that the last time she scored was when she was 5 years old so she was obviously hugely excited to score at the Madejski. The final goal came on 72 minutes when Follis took the ball over Quantrill in goal and the game ended another unbeaten run winning 3-0! The girls would go to Durham for the last game before the break and a group of dedicated fans travelled up the night before to see a midday kick off.
A long trip up North
The radio commentary at Durham probably wished they were elsewhere in the crowd as the drums were nearby and fans from the north had joined the travelling fans from the south, there was even a vuvuzela! The singing started from the off and fans listening in at home said they could hear the Reading fans on the radio. It wasn't long before they had something to sing about as Follis took a shot from wide inside the box and from our angle it looked like it had hit the side netting but the game was restarted from the centre circle! 1-0 already and the game had barely started.
The second goal came in the second half as Bruton was fouled, Lois Roche stepped up and her free kick was spilled by the Durham keeper and a nifty little back heel from captain Kirsty McGee crept over the line making it 2-0. The third came in the 79th minute when Becky Jane’s cross was headed in by a Durham player trying to defend, and with three minutes left in the game Roche scored much to the delight of the crowd who sang her song for what seemed like a record amount of time. Just as the crowd thought that was it, Follis decided to make it 5-0 right on the whistle.
As the season went in to the break ready for the World Cup in Canada, Reading FC Women sit on the top of the table by goal difference only and Doncaster Rover Belles nipping at their heels. If the season continues like this it all could come down to the next meeting of the top two at Farnborough on September 5th. The season returns on July 11th as Durham come to Farnborough where they will try and make amends for the defeat thrust on them.
The World Cup
You may have all been hearing about Kirby over in Canada, she made her first appearance late on in the game against France and even though she was a threat, her team mates could not get the ball through as France took the opening win 1-0.
It would take the Mexico match for the world to see just what Kirby could do. She started this game and Mexico seemed like they had no idea what had hit them. The game was a little nervy as it was a must win for the girls but on 71 minutes Kirby broke through into the box and tackled by a few players she managed to weave her way through and toe the ball into the net! The world has just met Fran Kirby!
As always, England are a huge threat straight after a goal as they were injected by confidence and it wasn't long before Kirby took a strike which almost curled it’s way into the box but the keeper managed to get her fingers to it. Two of three subs teams up to make it 2-0 as Notts County player Alex Greenwood put in a cross and connected beautifully with Karen Carney of Birmingham City Ladies who headed it in the net and England were looking likely to take the all-important three points they needed.
Stoppage time was painful as Mexico found some late life and managed to grab a goal back when a shot was spilled by Manchester City goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and knocked in, thankfully there wasn't enough time to pull the game level and England took the win. Fran was awarded player of the match and secured her place in the starting line-up for the final group game.
The knockout stage
The top two teams from each group would go through to the Round of 16 along with the four best third place teams and Colombia managed to shake up the group with a shock 2-0 win over France qualifying the for the Round of 16. They were England’s last opponents of the group and France were playing Mexico at the same time. England had to beat Colombia as France were back on form and comfortably beat Mexico meaning England would sit third in the group unless they won the final game, the heat was on.
Two goals in the first half from Carney and a penalty from Liverpool Ladies Fara Williams would win the game despite a late lack of concentration allowing Colombia to pull one back and England finished second in the group. Kirby was fearless, Colombia proved tricky and England failed to get possession at times until Kirby ran in and got the ball switching play back to England’s advantage. She had an amazing game but as this was the last of the group stage, she made way for Birmingham City Ladies player Jo Potter and watched as the girls finished the game.
England face Norway in the next round, Norway have been a tough side for opponents and will not make it easy for the girls but with a mixture of experience and rising talent they may just make it through to the quarter finals. You can watch the game live on BBC Three Monday 22nd June; the game kicks off at 10pm.
The years Women’s World Cup is breaking records and skyrocketing careers, especially our own Fran Kirby’s who England coach Mark Sampson dubbed our own mini Messi! See what it’s all about and you can tell stories in years to come of how you watched history in the making!
Until next time Royals…