For the Reading fans who turned up to the Chigwell Construction Stadium asking ‘can we fix it?’, the answer was ‘nearly… and so close’, (you can guess that I so wanted to write ‘yes we can!’), the Royals fighting back from a half-time 3-0 deficit to eventually lose 3-2.
It again wasn’t to be, even with a great second-half performance showing excellent spirit and effort with goals from Charlie Wellings and a late penalty from Sanne Troelsgaard – leading to an exciting end to the match, with some very anxious home supporters.
It was unfortunately another big lesson for Kelly Chambers’ team with another slow start, combined with some clinical finishing by the Hammers. The first-half performance cost the Royals dearly and simply left them with too much to do.
The starting line-up included only change from the team that played so well against Arsenal last weekend (especially when you saw Arsenal’s mid-week performance away to Lyon!) but still seeing the Royals end the match with nothing to show for the effort and resilience – Charlie Wellings back in the team for the injured Emma Harries.
Similar to Reading, in every close season West Ham have had to rebuild (12 incoming players and 10 departures) including losing their club captain Gilly Flaherty (following her old manager Matt Beard to Liverpool). With Paul Konchesky in charge, West Ham have started the WSL relatively well with now three wins.
If Reading won the toss and decided to change ends it was a tactic that didn’t work. From a Reading fans’ point of view it was a first half to forget and from a Reading team’s point of view it was one to remember and quickly learn from.
With this morning’s weather providing more changes than the government (the tube station before Dagenham East was closed due to flooding!) the match started in near perfect conditions and blue skies. That’s where the perfection ended with the Royals 1-0 down after just four minutes. A right-wing cross from West Ham’s Mel Filis was headed home too easily by the very tall Icelandic striker and West Ham captain, Dagny Brynjarsdottir.
There were further warnings to come, with the home team on the front foot and seeing an early Viviane Asseyi effort quite rightly ruled offside, a cross shot from the Hammers’ captain nearly catching the Reading goalkeeper out, quickly followed by another shot flashing just wide. If Amalie Eikeland didn’t already know, she soon found out she was going to be in for a busy defensive afternoon.
Kelly Chambers certainly won’t be happy with the second goal, the Reading defence failing to clear their lines with several attempts, with the ball eventually falling to Viviane Asseyi who took the opportunity to finish from close range to put the claret and blues 2-0 up after just 20 minutes.
Asseyi was a handful for the Royals’ defence throughout the first half. A collision with Reading goalkeeper Jaqueline Burns resulted in a free kick to Reading, with the referee ignoring the cries of a penalty shout from the home support.
Inevitably, it didn’t take long for Asseyi to grab her brace, collecting a perfectly threaded pass between Emma Mukandi and Gemma Evans to slot the ball past the stranded Jacqueline Burns. A tough opening first half that also saw West Ham hit the crossbar twice. Reading’s best chance came from Charlie Wellings – a good effort and long-range strike, just wide of the goal.
It was the old cliché of a game of two halves with the half-time team talk from Kelly Chambers resulting in a resurgence from the Royals who started and finished the second half with more energy, more commitment, more challenges and more fouls. They put the West Ham defence under pressure throughout, largely leaving Jacqueline Burns a spectator. There was one change at half-time with Lily Woodham replaced by Lauren Wade and further changes to come.
The effort was rewarded in the 75th minute with a great strike and finish, from the right of the West Ham penalty area, by Charlie Wellings.
Both teams made several changes during the second half. Natasha Dowie and Justine Vanhaevermaet left the field and Sanne Troelsgaard and Lauren Wade came on to try and salvage something for the blue and white hoops. Paul Konchesky also made four changes including removing their captain and goalkeeper (for an injury you would assume).
The replacement goalkeeper’s first bit of action was picking the ball out of the back of the net, following a Sanne Troelsgaard penalty that was just about good enough. The new goalkeeper guessed the right way, getting a hand to it but ultimately not stopping the ball from crossing the line. The penalty came about after a surging run from Rachel Rowe saw her heels clipped in the box.
With just eight minutes remaining the Royals piled on the pressure. There were groans from the West Ham fans when the assistant referee indicated six minutes of time to be added. With seconds remaining, Sanne Troelsgaard found herself in good surging positions twice, first seeing her pass blazed over by substitute Faye Bryson and then, with nearly the last kick of the match, her shot was just too tame to worry the replacement West Ham goalkeeper.
The silver lining was that the two comeback second-half goals meant Reading remain second from bottom on goal difference. Still no wins against West Ham United for just over two years. It’s now a huge match at home to bottom of the table Leicester next week at the SCL Stadium. See you there!
One side note and quirk of the WSL: if you are an away fan, you can’t buy tickets directly from Reading FC. Instead, you have to go directly to the away club and, bizarrely, you have to become a member (of said away club) to be able to purchase a ticket. The result was that I now have ticket membership (complete with marketing email information updates I don’t want…) for nearly half of the men’s Premier League clubs!