This is what we’ve been waiting for! If this were Strictly Come Football, the Reading FC women stood tall, looked their partners in the eye, took control, took the lead (literally) and got into the groove early, giving a performance that the crowd could judge with a perfect ‘10 from Len’.
This Reading squad has a lot of talented players and therefore even more puzzlingly, particularly with the last two matches, that the performances couldn’t gel to reflect this. The players spoke mid-week about this being ‘a cup match’, and they certainly stood up to and thrived in the self-inflicted pressure this afternoon.
Ex-Reading player Remi Allen certainly couldn’t wait to get going either! Kicking off when the other 21 players all stopped to take the knee. To much amusement and smiles (crowd and players alike) she raised her hand in acknowledgment and quickly joined in with this gesture, with the back drop round of applause from the fans. If you haven’t been to a WSL match, it’s a really nice atmosphere to watch football, win, lose or draw.
The Royals made one change today; with (the very much missed) Rachel Rowe back in the starting line-up, Lily Woodham dropped to the subs bench. It was probably not a surprise to anyone that knows Tash Harding to see her, filling in at left back, heavily bandaged after the clash of heads last weekend, with 30 stitches not stopping her from playing!
It was great to see the energy, drive and commitment of Rachel Rowe back in the team and in the 15th minute, on the break, Rowe passed the ball to Eikland wide on the right. There was still a lot for Amalie Eikland to do but she cut in from what looked a tight angle and deftly placed the ball in the top far corner of the goal, lobbing the stranded Villa keeper, Hampton, in the process. 1-0 to the home team and the Royals’ first goal of the season.
Like buses, we didn’t have to wait long for the second either. Deanne Rose, stealing the ball from Villa centre back Asanti, and cutting the ball back to Eikland who found Rowe, on the right hand side of the penalty area, powerfully striking the ball, and even though Hampton got two hands to the ball she couldn’t stop this from hitting the net. 2-0 to the Blue and White Hoops.
There were more chances to quickly follow, Rowe struggling to get the ball under control and right back Faye Bryson putting in a great cross a fraction too high for Rose to head in.
Villa’s biggest threat came from the crosses of right back Mayling. They had six corners in the first half alone but all of them were defended really well by a rejuvenated Reading team working hard for one another.
Within the two minutes of time added on, as the crowd were starting to move higher up the stand to avoid getting sun burnt (!) Natasha Dowie finished the near-perfect first half with a perfect strike into the top right of Hampton’s goal. A right-foot effort just outside the penalty and one certainly worth a watch back later (in fact as were all the goals today).
At half time last week it was, apparently, Grace Moloney and Brooke Chaplen leading the rally call. With the third goal from Dowie just before half time, I assumed the players could all enjoy the short break and it was over to Kelly Chambers to ensure ‘much of the same’ for the second half.
The second half, although no goals, saw Reading Women in control. Villa made substitutions and often pressured Moloney’s goal, but every attempt was blocked by a blue and white shirt or stopped with a great tackle - Gemma Evans providing a great last-ditch sliding tackle. For all the pressure from Villa I can’t remember a save by Grace Moloney.
Rose, who had a super game, working hard and a great outlet for the midfield, was substituted for Emma Harries. And Rowe, on her first start for a while, was replaced by Chloe Peplow.
What a change from the recent matches and what a great afternoon of football. The team effort was collective, the talent visible and the players looked like they enjoyed it (Rachel Rowe even getting the crowd going during a short break in play). The sun shone all afternoon, we could hear the music in the stand and even the tannoy announcements could be heard!
Cup game excepted (Wednesday October 13 vs Bristol City 19.30), it feels rather a shame (or maybe a well-earned break and reward?) that the next league match isn’t for another four weeks, away to Birmingham.