It was a horrible seven-minute period in the second half that ultimately decided the result of this afternoon’s match, and one for the Reading captain to forget.
After a promising and goalless first half, the Royals’ captain and left back, Emma Mukandi, netted twice in her own goal in the 53rd and 60th minutes - both conceded from crosses by England international Lauren Hemp who caused no end of problems for the Reading defence all afternoon. A goal from Manchester City’s Khadija Shaw, in the 77th minute, saw the visitors leave with three points and a 3-0 score line at the Select Car Leasing Stadium.
Although buoyed on the back of last week’s excitement and victory against Leicester City, it was always going to be a tough match against a Manchester City team that is expected to finish within the top four of the WSL. The city manager Gareth Taylor had the squad luxury of bringing on second-half substitutes of the quality of England and Euro champions Chloe Kelly (62nd minute) and Alex Greenwood (68th minute) and didn’t even use goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck and Steph Houghton.
Kelly Chambers made one change from last week’s starting line-up with Sanne Troelsgaard leading the attack in place of Natasha Dowie, who was dropped to the bench. The Royals lined up in a 4-4-2 formation:
Jacqueline Burns; Emma Mukandi, Gemma Evans, Diane Caldwell, Faye Bryson; Lily Woodham, Amalie Eikeland, Charlie Wellings; Rachel Rowe, Sanne Troelsgaard
The torrential downpour, just before kick-off, didn’t dampen the spirits of the Royals faithful and meant the pitch was naturally watered too! It was a first 15 minutes that started well for Reading, winning an early corner and with energetic movement pressing the Manchester defence into some early errors.
After this opening spell, it was the visitors that went on to stamp their authority, keeping possession and creating the best of the first-half chances. Lauren Hemp caused a troublesome afternoon for the Royals’ right back, Faye Bryson, who certainly won’t be (hasn’t been) the only defender this season to endure the difficult task of trying to stop the in-form winger.
Although it felt all a bit predictable with City getting the ball out wide to Hemp to then cross the ball - generally looking for the imposing figure of centre forward Khadija Shaw (‘Bunny’) - it didn’t stop this from happening time and time again. Hemp set up their first chance on 18 minutes, cutting the pass back to Laura Coombs who lashed her shot wildly, missing the target.
On 23 minutes Hemp saw her own shot go wide and just a few minutes later it was Hemp again who headed wide. As half time approached, it was a Emma Mukandi block and Gemma Evans pressure on Shaw that kept the score level, together with a poor finish from City’s Hayley Raso after finding herself in a good position.
Justine Vanhaevermaet picked up the only yellow card of the match (12 minutes) after a tug on a City shirt to break up an early attack.
Manchester City kicked off the second half, attacking the Club 1871 stand, setting sun and wind turbine. Immediately City enjoyed a couple of early chances - a left-foot strike from Lauren Hemp (there’s a theme here…) which was saved and held by Jacqueline Burns, followed by a shot, wide of the goal, from Deyna Castellanos.
And then the seven minutes to forget for the Royals captain happened. Inevitably, it was a cross from Lauren Hemp that flashed across the six-yard box, finding the lunging, defensive, outstretched right leg of Emma Mukandi to deflect the ball into the Royals’ net for her first own goal of the afternoon and 1-0 for the visitors.
In an almost identical move, City broke from the half-way line, with Faye Bryson and a chasing Amalie Eikeland unable to stop the marauding Lauren Hemp whose shot-come-cross was, unfortunately, turned into the net by the body of Emma Mukandi rushing in to defend at the back post. 2-0 to the visitors and a brace of own goals for the unlucky Royals captain.
Kelly Chambers tried to change things with substitutions throughout the second half. Justine Vanhaevermaet was replaced by Tia Primmer (61st minute), Faye Bryson for Deanna Cooper (66th minute) and a double change towards the end (87th minute) with Lily Woodham and Sanne Troelsgaard replaced by Lauren Wade and Natasha Dowie.
It didn’t change the course of the match, sadly damaged by the two own goals, and Manchester City completed the scoring on 77 minutes, seeing another cross from the right - unusually from substitute Mary Fowler - finding the head of Khadija Shaw who comfortably headed the ball past the Reading goalkeeper for the finishing 3-0 score line.
It’s worth a special mention to last week’s star, Rachel Rowe, who again epitomised the attempts to drag the blue and white hoops back into the match. On 71 minutes there was a three-minute spell when the Royals enjoyed pressure of four consecutive corners - all starting from a surging run and tenacity down the left by Rachel Rowe. She subsequently took three of these corners, finishing with a long-range strike, this time just wide of the goal. Great effort from the Welsh international to end a short-lived bit of enjoyment for the home fans.
The Royals have now only won one match in their opening six WSL fixtures and find themselves again second from bottom, only to Leicester - who have yet to get a point on the board. The next match is away to Aston Villa (who had an impressive victory at Liverpool this afternoon) at the impressive Villa Park stadium - 2pm Sunday 20th November 2022. See you there!