The Royals showed their WSL quality with their first clean sheet of the season and a comfortable 3-0 victory, at St Mary’s Stadium, against Championship side Southampton in the second group match of the Conti Cup.
Kelly Chambers made six changes from Thursday’s WSL thrilling 3-3 draw against Liverpool, recalling goalkeeper Jacqueline Burns after her sending-off at Aston Villa last Sunday. Burns made her senior debut against Spurs in the first group match in early October.
Reading had a back four of Emma Mukandi, Gemma Evans, Deanna Cooper and Faye Bryson – with Lily Woodham and Diane Caldwell named as substitutes. Thursday’s goalscorers Tia Primmer and Natasha Dowie, along with Charlie Wellings, also sat out the start – with Sanne Troelsgaard (Thursday’s late equalising goalscorer) starting in midfield and Lauren Wade and Emma Harries leading the strike force.
Burns, Bryson, Cooper, Evans, Mukandi, Vanhaevermaet, Eikeland, Troelsgaard, Rowe, Harries, Wade
Reading got off to the perfect start when Sanne Troelsgaard kept her composure to turn and finish from close range at the goalkeeper’s top left-hand corner after just five minutes. It was another assist from Rachel Rowe after battling to win the ball and create the opportunity. 1-0 to the visitors.
There was a very decent 4,258 attendance this afternoon and cheers could be heard from the smattering of Loyal Royals who made the short trip down to St Mary’s Stadium – including future Reading striker Sophie (with her dad), part of the under-13s academy coached by first-team players Becky Jane and Natasha Dowie.
From the offset, Reading – in blue and white hoops, blue shorts and socks – always looked like they had a bit more quality than the Championship team. Although the first half was the more competitive, the Royals generally controlled and dominated the match throughout.
Rachel Rowe forced an early save from the Southampton keeper, Sophie Harris, but it wouldn’t have counted anyway after the offside decision was given.
The Saints breathed a sigh of relief on 21 minutes when Sanne Troelsgaard missed a great opportunity to put the Royals into an early commanding lead. Rachel Rowe charged forward from midfield, passed to Lauren Wade and her left-foot cross looked almost perfect, but Troelsgaard was just unable to connect with the goal beckoning.
Any attacking play from Southampton came on the counter attack, generally aiming a long ball over the top of the Reading high line. A bad back pass by Gemma Evans saw Jacqueline Burns come to her rescue and she cleared to safety outside the Reading penalty area with the Southampton striker bearing down on her. It was sighs of relief all round after a near déjà vu (Aston Villa) moment for the Reading goalkeeper.
In the first half Southampton were largely limited to long-range efforts, Alice Griffiths’ shot forcing a save from Burns, diving to her right, and an Ella Morris effort dipping, but not enough, and flying over the crossbar.
One of the best passages of play saw Reading captain Emma Mukandi, just in the Southampton half, perfectly place a long pass to Lauren Wade who, in the left-hand corner of the penalty area, finished coolly past the outcoming Sophie Harris in the Saints goal to put the Royals 2-0 ahead.
Although Southampton counter attacked with another long-ball attempt, closed down by Faye Bryson and Gemma Evans, it already felt like the match was out of reach for the Championship team.
The second half only endorsed this feeling as the Royals dominated possession and control for the remainder of the match. Kelly Chambers was in the privileged position of being able to use all of her five substitutes in the second half. The first was made during the break and hopefully just a precaution, Emma Harries (again with her knee strapped up) not returning for the second half with Charlie Wellings taking her place.
On the hour mark, Rachel Rowe’s free kick found its way to Justine Vanhaevermaet who hammered the ball past Sophie Harris’ near post from close range to put the match beyond the reach of the home team.
With this comfortable margin, Kelly Chambers had the unusual luxury of being able to utilise her substitutes bench and rest a few players. Rachel Rowe (for Tia Primmer), Deanna Cooper (for Diane Caldwell), Lauren Wade (for Natasha Dowie) and Faye Bryson (for Becky Jane) – with an extra cheer from academy star Sophie after seeing her coach and boss enter the field of play.
Charlie Wellings came close and was very unlucky – with three late chances – not to put the Royals into a four-goal lead. The first opportunity saw a goal-bound header cleared by the Southampton defence, next a shot went just wide of the near post and, after some great teamwork play by Troelsgaard and Dowie, somehow her effort was blocked on the goalline after a shot that looked like a certainty.
With Tottenham Hotspur beating Coventry in the other group match, it looks unlikely that Reading will progress to the next round even if they beat Coventry in the final match on Friday December 16. It is nonetheless still a nice change (particularly this season) to watch the Royals control and dominate a match and run out empathic winners
And talking of Tottenham Hotspur, that’s the next WSL match for Kelly Chambers’ team, at the Select Car Leasing Stadium on Sunday December 4 (12.30 kick-off). See you there.