A promising start for the Royals today saw Lauren Wade stun the home crowd with the opening goal after just seven minutes – only to see Kelly Chambers' team self-destruct and collapse in spectacular fashion, losing 3-1 at Villa Park.
It was Aston Villa who almost scored within just two minutes, a right-foot shot by the impressive Kenza Dali brushing the Reading goal post, from the edge of the penalty area, much to the relief of the onlooking Royals goalkeeper, Jacqueline Burns.
The Royals bounced back quickly and when Rachel Rowe was fouled in midfield, the resultant set piece was finished by Lauren Wade, from close range, putting the Royals into a 1-0 early lead.
This was the first match back for both teams after the international break, with differing expectations. Reading were looking to bounce back after their home defeat to Manchester City and Aston Villa were aiming to continue their run of form after beating Liverpool, away from home, after a Rachel Daly penalty.
It’s impossible to guess the starting line-up. Kelly Chambers made three changes this afternoon with Natasha Dowie, Tia Primmer and Lauren Wade all starting in place of Faye Bryson and Sanne Troelsgaard - both named as substitutes - and Charlie Wellings, missing from the squad.
A surprise welcome appearance was the sight of Grace Moloney, back on the substitutes bench, and a surprise for her later in the match too! (and one of three goalkeepers named in the squad today).
It's impossible to guess the starting positions too. Chambers today selected Lily Woodham at left back, Emma Mukandi moved to right back and Lauren Wade supported Natasha Dowie up front.
Burns, Mukandi, Caldwell, Evans, Woodham, Eikeland, Primmer, Vanhaevermaet, Rowe, Wade, Dowie
Villa Park is an impressive venue and although shocked, the majority of the of 4,566 expectant crowd cheered on the claret and blue team, providing a great home atmosphere. There was a smattering of blue and white hooped fans in attendance - including the loyal Royals who travelled on the inaugural away fans' coach this afternoon - the services and arrangements kindly provided via STAR (and let’s hope that’s the first of many away-day outings to come).
Spurred into action, Villa streamed forward on many occasions during the first half, looking for the equaliser. Aston Villa looked strong on the attack with the skilful Alisha Lehman, hard-working Kenza Dali and England Lioness, and Euro-winner Rachel Daly who was a class above everyone else.
Villa came close on 23 minutes when Alisha Lehman beat the offside trap but was quickly closed down by Justine Vanhaevermaet who did just enough, the ball eventually falling to Rachel Daly who, with an early warning of things to come, rushed her shot high and wide.
On 37 minutes Villa found the equaliser. Inevitably, it was Aston Villa’s centre forward and stella signing of the summer, Rachel Daly, who showed her class and quality with a deft header back across the Reading goal and into the net - after a cross from Rachel Corsie on the right. That's Daly’s sixth goal of the season.
With just seconds of the first half remaining (with two minutes of time added on) it was another fortuitous own goal that saw Villa go down the tunnel with a 2-1 lead.
An Aston Villa corner was flicked on by the ever-dangerous Rachel Daly catching out Gemma Evans who unfortunately redirected a defensive header into her own net (the third own goal for Reading this season), giving Jacqueline Burns no chance at all.
The second half saw the Royals try and get back into the match with Amalie Eikeland attempting a couple of surging runs that came to nothing and an attempted pass to Natasha Dowie that was just out of reach and collected by the outcoming Anna Leat, protecting the Aston Villa goal.
Just before, Villa also had another great opportunity with the hard-working Kenza Dali heading over from close range.
On the hour mark Kelly Chambers made two changes. Diane Caldwell and Lauren Wade replaced by Faye Bryson and Deanna Cooper. Again, it meant another reshuffling of positions for the Royals with Bryson shooting in at right back, captain Emma Mukandi left back and Lily Woodham pushed further up on the left wing.
And then Reading hit the self-destruct button and collapsed. First the red card - Reading goalkeeper Jacqueline Burns sent off for a professional foul just outside the box. No complaints from the Royals and, although not a reckless challenge, Aston Villa striker Kirsty Hanson unfortunately also had to be withdrawn injured due to the collision.
With a choice of two substitute goalkeepers it was Tia Primmer the unfortunate outfield player to be sacrificed for Grace Moloney to make an even more unexpected return to goal before watching the resultant free kick go high and wide.
Part two of the calamitous defending and collapse came on 74 minutes when Gemma Evans had another moment to forget, unnecessarily barging over the surging Rachel Daly in the penalty area. Daly stepped up to coolly finish past the replacement goalkeeper, sending Grace Moloney the wrong way.
Another afternoon to forget for the Royals fans, another harsh lesson for the Reading team and probably another sleepless night for Kelly Chambers - with more regrouping, rebuilding and galvanising required.
There’s no time for Kelly Chambers or the team to dwell on this defeat, with the rearranged home match against fellow strugglers Liverpool on Thursday - and it now already feels like an important and huge match!
After then, we all get a break from the WSL with next Sunday’s match an away trip to Southampton in the Conti Cup.
An interesting observation from today was the choice of blue shorts for this afternoon’s kit. It will be interesting to see if the Royals make this a permanent change - similar to many other clubs this season.