Today’s bottom-of-the-table visitors arrived with extremely mixed recent fortune over their last two matches. A surprise, and first, 2-0 league victory against table toppers Arsenal, followed by a thumping 5-0 defeat away to Manchester United. Up until that Arsenal victory I believe Birmingham City fans had only enjoyed watching their team lead for 11 minutes during the entire season!
In contrast, The Royals started the match in record-hunting mood. Reading’s last scheduled match, against Arsenal, was postponed due to Covid so today’s game was when Reading could set a new club record of four wins on the bounce, in the Women’s Super League, and go level on points with Manchester City.
The visitors clearly hadn’t read the script and, following a third-minute, Lucy Quinn’s corner helped open the scoring with Gemma Lawley out-jumping both Natasha Dowie and Faye Bryson to head the Blues into a surprise 1-0 lead.
There was one change to the Reading defence today, with Deanna Cooper not featuring in the squad, Faye Bryson returning to right back and Tash Harding filling in at centre back. I know the modern game is all about passing out from the back (and who am I to question the tactics of Kelly Chambers?) but, personally, I’m not a fan of the move where centre back Tash Harding takes the goal kick with a short pass to keeper Grace Moloney to distribute. All a bit the wrong way round for me; it invites pressure on the keeper and I’ve yet to see it work to great effect.
In response Reading had a couple of quick corners but both were headed away to safety by Birmingham. The team in yellow looked resolute and came close with another corner set piece, this time Faye Bryson blocking a shot on her near-post corner duty. Birmingham kept up the pressure with Tash Harding called into defensive action with a good flicked-on header and Sanne Troelsgaard similarly with an important header away from a Lucy Quinn free kick.
In the first half Reading were, unusually, sloppy with their passing. Tash Harding carelessly lost possession with Jade Pennock of Birmingham playing a neat pass to Libby Smith who returned the favour for Jade Pennock to stretch and tip the ball past the advancing Grace Moloney to put the Blues 2-0 up.
It was during this event that Moloney collided with the Birmingham striker and suffered what appears to be a serious injury. The match was stopped for some time whilst the Reading keeper received medical treatment, only for her to be stretchered off, to a round of applause and good wishes, as the 45-minute marker passed. Rhiannon Stewart took goal for the Royals as the fourth official indicated eight minutes of time to be added on, and was alert enough to dive low from an ambitious but long-range test and effort from Birmingham.
Just as the Reading manager Kelly Chambers must have been readying herself for a difficult motivating half-time team talk, Justine Vanhaevermaet deftly headed a Lily Woodham free kick into the back of the net, cutting the deficit in half, and lifting the spirits and hopes of both the team and Reading fans for the second period.
Whatever was said at half-time worked and within three minutes Reading had a penalty after Emma Harries, finding herself battling two Birmingham defenders in the box, was adjudged to have been tripped and a penalty was awarded. Tash Dowie made no mistake, sending the keeper the wrong way and executing a perfect penalty low and hard into the right hand corner. 2-2 game on!
On 55 minutes, as the outside temperature was dropping, the fans were rewarded and warmed up by a great bit of football from the Royals. The formidable and impressive Justine Vanhaevermaet winning back possession, Deanne Rose’s skill to go past defenders and left-foot cross to see a sublime swivel and technically perfect finish by ‘Her Football Hub’s’ Rising Star award winner’ Emma Harries. If she wasn’t already being watched by scouts of other clubs, this week’s award and performance will only increase her presence on the footballing radar.
Birmingham heads didn’t drop and, similar to Leicester in the last match, their play, movement and efforts belied their league position. They went close again, with Rhiannon Stewart again alert enough not to get caught by a clever free kick around the wall and at her near post.
Justine Vanhaevermaet was unlucky to see her header, from another Royals corner, parried away by Birmingham keeper Emily Ramsey. Equally, Rhiannon Stewart was called into action with a similar headed attempt by the visitors.
Although Birmingham used three substitutions the Royals continued to work hard, defended well and controlled the remainder of the match to see out a record-breaking performance, showing further evidence of the character, collectiveness and skill of this team to win 3-2.
To round off a good afternoon of not just good football and goals, the Select Car Leasing Stadium team (or the fan zone support steward?) kindly listened to the feedback and subsequent email request to open the pedestrian gates, around the ground, to allow 360 movement of fans. Thank you Reading Football Club, much appreciated!