Brighton and Hove Albion Women visited the SCL stadium in form and in an impressive third place in the WSL. A tough ask for ninth place Royals today but they were also in form: unbeaten in three league matches, plus a win in the League Cup in midweek.
There was one change for the blue and white hoops (from the West Ham league match), with Chaplow dropping to the bench and a first-team start for young Tia Primmer, on the right of midfield. Another new central defence partnership for Gemma Evans, this time with the ever versatile and ever reliable captain Tash Harding playing alongside her and Lily Woodham returning to left back.
A fresh November afternoon saw the crowd sporting many woolly hats, gloves and scarfs. In contrast, goalkeeper excepted, not a pair of gloves in sight in the Reading FC team. Right from kick-off, the Royals certainly looked warmed up and raring to go, laying down a marker for much of the first half, forcing a corner within the first minute. In the second, Faye Bryson won the ball, drove forward and unleashed an impressive shot that the Brighton keeper, Welsh, could only parry with Natasha Dowie following up sprightly to put the Royals 1-0 for a great start to the match.
The Reading team pretty much controlled the first half with Grace Moloney only called into action a couple of times, a punch from an inviting Brighton cross from the right and a good save from a close-range effort by ex-Reading striker Danielle Carter.
Brighton knew what they had to do in the second half and found themselves in ascendency for much of it. Although they provided consistent pressure, Reading were a match, dealing with everything thrown at them very comfortably and defending well. It wasn’t until the 70th minute, with Brighton looking like they had run out of ideas, that Reading started to counter attack too and give the Seagulls something else to think about.
In the 86th minute, Vanhaevermaet played a perfectly timed pass over the Brighton defence that found Emma Harries (substitute for Primmer) with half the length of the pitch to run, outpacing everyone and calmly and coolly taking it round the keeper to put the Royals 2-0 and claim the three points.
I believe this is a very talented team and maybe it’s taken a while to bond and get to know each other. From Tash Harding and Gemma Evans - both solid and marshalling in defence - through to Dowie and Rose in attack, it was a very good, hard-working team performance all round, with a clean sheet to top it off and thoroughly deserved too.
I understand the crowd wasn’t huge today, which is a shame. I'm not sure how many Brighton fans would have made the trip either. It did, however, make me smile when, during the match, I spotted a flock of seagulls (not the 1980’s pop band) circle the SCL Stadium and, even with their bird's eye view, were seemingly unimpressed with their namesake football team and soon flew off for other entertainment.