The Reading players will be, quite rightly, aggrieved by the officiating after a fantastic second-half comeback saw them leave Kings Meadow empty-handed and on the wrong end of a 3-2 score line on Sunday night.
Kelly Chambers had already voiced her concerns over the standard of refereeing in the WSL this season and this match will only endorse and enforce her opinion after conceding an opening goal from a quickly taken Chelsea free-kick that should have been flagged for offside.
Deanna Cooper was adjudged to have given away a foul on the far corner of the Reading penalty area. As Cooper hobbled away, Chelsea quickly took the free kick; the pass to Johanna Rytting Kaneryd - although offside - was squared to Fran Kirby to put the Blues into an early lead after 15 minutes.
The Reading bench, with access to the replays, were visibly disappointed and felt let down again by the officials. Phil Cousins, the Royals’ head coach, picked up a yellow card on 20 minutes when his frustration understandably boiled over.
It was a shame and real blow for the Royals who started the first quarter of the match well and were equal to the league leaders. Emma Harries kept the captain’s armband throughout the night and put in a super performance. She forced the first Royals corner of the match, on 11 minutes, taking on Magdalena Eriksson down the left wing.
From the resultant corner the ball was cleared to Tia Primmer who, after scoring from outside the penalty area against Liverpool, was confident enough to take on another ambitious effort – this time the teenager seeing her attempted lob just too high of the Chelsea crossbar.
There were a couple of early scares for the Royals too. Jacqueline Burns was called into action in the first four minutes, her punched clearance fired back in by Chelsea and blocked on the near post by some great recovery defending by Gemma Evans.
Reading enjoyed some good attacking down the right-hand side of the pitch. On 24 minutes Sanne Troelsgaard passed to Emma Harries whose right-foot cross was aimed for Lauren Wade at the near post, but was cleared by England international Millie Bright to safety.
After some promising play, Reading found themselves 2-0 down just before the half-hour mark. Tia Primmer lost the ball just outside the Reading penalty area, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd’s shot hitting the upright and rebounding back across the penalty area for Jelana Cankovic to react the quickest and side foot into the Reading goal from close range.
Within minutes the Royals looked like they may be in trouble when Jelana Cankovic scored her second goal of the evening, nodding home a cross from Erin Cuthbert from the right and put the home side into a commanding 3-0 lead.
Apart from a long-range left-foot strike by Justine Vanhaevermaet, after another run and cross from the right by Emma Harries, it was the home side on the ascendancy. The score line remained 3-0 at half-time after some heroic defending and blocks by Gemma Evans and Faye Bryson, and some brave goalkeeping by Jacqueline Burns who needed treatment after a dive and clash with her own team mate.
Team: Burns, Bryson, Cooper, Evans, Woodham, Vanhaevermaet, Primmer, Eikeland, Troelsgaard, Wade, Harries
After the victory last week against Tottenham Hotspur, Kelly Chambers rewarded the players with an unchanged starting 11 and kept faith with the same team for the start of the second half.
Within minutes of the restart Deanna Cooper picked up the Royals’ first playing staff yellow card after sticking out a right leg to stop the Chelsea striker running into the penalty area. Cooper was almost immediately back in the action, this time using her head to deflect a shot from Erin Cuthbert.
It was an injury that saw Kelly Chambers make her first substitution of the evening with Rachel Rowe replacing Tia Primmer who hobbled off the pitch.
On the hour mark Reading got a lifeline after a cross from Emma Harries, on the right, was cleared by Euros champion Mille Bright, only as far as Sanne Troelsgaard. The Danish international still had a lot to do but managed to side step and get an early shot on goal, past the Chelsea goal keeper, Ann-Katrin Berger, who will have been disappointed to see that go under her body. 3-1.
Within 60 seconds it was jubilation as the Royals scored again with a great move and finish down the right-hand side of the pitch. Sanne Troelsgaard’s pass found Rachel Rowe who, in turn, quickly found Emma Harries with her cross perfectly pulled back to Amalie Eikeland who scored Reading’s second goal of the night. 3-2, game on!
Faye Bryson picked up a yellow card shortly before being replaced by Reading’s club captain Emma Mukandi - Kelly Chambers presumably looking for experience to try and salvage something out of the match. The third change saw Lauren Wade swapped for Charlie Wellings as the Royals pushed for an equaliser and one that would have been well deserved.
Emma Hayes, the Chelsea manager, can’t have imagined she would have found her team in this position with 15 minutes to go and had to resort to bringing on three substitutes including the formidable Sam Kerr and Guro Reiten.
Although there were five minutes of time added on, Chelsea managed to see out the match and, to their relief, finish as 3-2 winners.
It was another entertaining game another great comeback attempt by the Royals but, all too similarly, the effort was unrewarded. I’m sure though that Kelly Chambers will have more to say about that.
Chelsea, although pleased by the money from Sky, will surely be disappointed by the crowd of only 1,184 (if I heard correctly). Perhaps not a surprise with a kick-off of 6.45pm on a school night, just before Christmas, with sub-zero temperatures and a pitch that resembled a Dickensian Christmas Carol scene (with the assistant referee playing the part of Scrooge…)