Fans’ hopes of the Royals’ season being kick-started by their first match of the Conti Cup were dashed by another disappointing first half against Tottenham Hotspur at the Select Car Leasing (SCL) Stadium - Reading FC finding themselves on the wrong side of another 2-1 scoreline and defeat. In an almost identical situation to last weekend (against Brighton & Hove Albion), Reading’s consolation goal, a penalty by Natasha Dowie, was scored late into time added on.
The result was a shame, with a club-record attendance of 2,200 (if I heard correctly), fans making a very good effort encountering the joys, difficulties and inevitable delays caused by the closure of the M4 motorway.
Kelly Chambers initially made one change to the starting line-up from last week, seeing Northern Ireland’s Jacquline Burns making her first start, replacing the usually evergreen Grace Moloney in goal. A forced late change also saw Diance Caldwell promoted to the team at the expense of captain Emma Mukandi. There were seven substitutes named today, including a second goalkeeper - Hannah Poulter - and a very pleasing sight to see Emma Harries back in the squad, her first match since April, after her serious injury.
The team set up in the now familiar 3-4-3 formation with Rachel Rowe taking on the captain’s armband. The first half was disappointingly also familiar, and after just seven minutes Reading found themselves 1-0 down.
Goalkeeper Jacqueline Burns’ distribution put Lily Woodham under pressure, conceding a free kick to Spurs. It was quickly taken (a sight you don’t often see in football nowadays) which caught Reading out and Ashleigh Neville cut in from the right. Her well struck shot flew past the Royals’ keeper to put the Lillywhites into an early lead.
The players reacted well and on 18 minutes some great battling midfield play from Natasha Dowie and Rachel Rowe resulted in a super pass from the captain to release Lauren Wade down the Reading left. Wade cut in and, still with a tight angle, unleashed a good left-foot shot across the Tottenham goalkeeper, only to see Rebecca Spencer’s outstretched arm deflect the ball to safety. Just minutes later a cross from Amalie Eikeland saw Natasha Dowies shoot wide of the target.
How the Royals needed a goal as, on the half-hour mark, a long kick from the Spurs keeper saw Tottenham on the break, down Reading’s left, the first effort saved by Burns, only to see this followed up and poked into the net by Nikola Karczewska - her first goal for Tottenham. The crowd were surprised not to see the assistant referee’s flag raised - so it will be interesting to see the replay and maybe reaction by Kelly Chambers - after her critical comments of the officials’ performance last week. 2-0 to the visitors and another tough challenge for the Royals to come back from.
With time running out in the first half, Reading found themselves very unlucky after Faye Bryson’s long-range effort hit the crossbar angle, with the Spurs goalkeeper stranded. The Royals continued the pressure with three late corners - taken by Rachel Rowe and Lily Woodham - but making no difference with all of the set pieces being comfortably and safely caught by Spurs’ Rebecca Spencer. Tia Primmier also collected a yellow card in time added on.
The second half was more of the same with Reading putting in another good second-half display but just not salvaging enough from their efforts. An early Royals free kick, an in-swinger from Lily Woodham, was blocked and eventually scrambled away by a crowded and resilient Tottenham defence.
Emma Harries was introduced on 56 minutes, replacing Lauren Wade. Reading pressed to get back into the match and, under pressure, Spurs goalscorer Ashleigh Neville was booked for a foul halting another Royals attack. The two Reading centre backs combined for another effort, Deanna Cooper’s cross was headed wide and over by Gemma Evans.
Tottenham made two changes with ex-Royal Angharad James leaving the field for Drew Spence and Kyah Simon replacing Amy Turner. These subs didn’t stop the Royals and Emma Harries was unlucky, seeing her effort blocked, after a quickly taken free-kick by Deanna Cooper. Reading’s centre back was again quickly in the action, with Cooper cutting the ball back into the danger zone but again just too many white defending shirts blocking and scrambling the ball to safety.
With 15 minutes of time to play, Kelly Chambers made one last positive attempt to salvage something from the match and replaced defender Faye Bryson with the attacking Charlie Wellings. She quickly combined well with Amalie Eikeland, only to see the cross resulting in a foul on the Tottenham goalkeeper. Reading huffed and puffed against a resilient Spurs side; Deanna Cooper, again in the action, couldn’t connect properly with an effort on goal and Natasha Dowie wanted a little too much time to bring down and finish near the front post.
However, there was a late consolation goal which Kelly Chambers may be buoyed by, seeing Emma Harries twist and jink in the Spurs penalty area, her skill and guile rewarded by a foul from the Spurs defence and resultant penalty. The ball was just out of Emma Harries’ reach, as I’m sure she would have grabbed it otherwise, so it was penalty taker Natasha Dowie that coolly tucked the ball into the bottom right hand corner for a nicely taken spot kick.
The goal came late into 11 minutes of time added on, after a collision caused a nasty injury to Tottenham substitute Kyah Simon, seeing her splinted and stretched off. That’s a sight you never want to see in football and it’s hopefully not as bad as it first looked.
Although it’s another 2-1 defeat, it’s also the first of three Conti Cup matches with, on paper, easier group fixtures to follow against Championship teams of Coventry and Southampton.
The next match is in a couple of weeks, Sunday October 16, back at the SCL Stadium, with a difficult WSL match against table-topping Arsenal, live on Sky, at the unusual 18:45 kick-off time.
I feel it’s right to leave you with a final shout and request for the West Ham away match on Sunday October 23. STAR have recently polled members for interest in arranging away coach travel for Reading FC Women fans (thank you STAR!). The interest has been good and the West Ham away fixture is looking like a real possibility.
It would be a huge boost and fillip to the Women’s game if this could happen and what a great day out this would be. Let’s see if we can make this happen and, you never know, this could be the start of many away-day coach travels to come!