Reading finished their final match of 2022 in style, beating Championship side Coventry United 4-0 in their last group match of the Continental Cup.
Team: Moloney, Mukandi (Bryson 45), Caldwell, Evans (Hendrix 46), Woodham, Vanhaevermaet, Eikeland (Primmer 77), Troelsgaard (Harries 46), Rowe, Wellings, Dowie (Lauren Wade 77).
Although the temperature on Friday night (all day?) was sub-zero – and a bitterly cold night for the players – this match was always going to be played with the Butts Park Arena having an all-weather artificial pitch. It’s a neat, modern, 4,000-capacity stadium, with one stand and thankfully a warm and welcoming bar serving hot food and hot and cold drinks.
It might be because of the look of the artificial surface or the fact that three sides of the ground are open-ended, but it felt like the pitch was large and that this suited the more experienced WSL Reading team, that quickly took control of the match and set the tempo.
Within four minutes of kick-off, Natasha Dowie leapt highest to head in in a great cross, from Amalie Eikeland, after a great bit of battling football to get the Royals off to a perfect start and 1-0 lead.
As a reminder that Reading still had work to do, it was Coventry who had two quick chances to equalise. On eight minutes a corner was punched away by Grace Moloney but only as far as the edge of the penalty area where the United player reacted quickly and headed the ball back towards the Reading goal but fortunately straight into the Reading goalkeeper’s arms. Another good break down the Coventry left saw a useful cross cut out at the near post by a lunging bit of defending from Diane Caldwell.
Any hope of the Reds quickly getting back into the game were dashed when Charlie Wellings saw her shot, from just outside of the penalty area, somehow beat the Coventry goalkeeper and hit the post. The deflection off the post saw the ball squirm back across the goal line with Sanne Troelsgaard the quickest to react for an easy tap-in – and just ahead of Natasha Dowie who was looking for her second of the night. 2-0 to the visitors.
Natasha Dowie was again unlucky not to score, this time on 22 minutes, nodding in a looping Amalie Eikeland cross at the back post, but her effort was ruled out for offside by the assistant referee. However, Dowie didn’t have to wait long to put the Royals into a commanding 3-0 lead. After receiving a pass in the Coventry penalty area, Dowie was allowed to turn and face the goal and, with some style, look up and coolly sidefoot her shot past the diving Mia Smith in the Coventry goal.
With a comfortable first-half performance, it was a shame that the 45 minutes ended with Emma Mukandi unable to continue through injury. She was substituted for Faye Bryson as the board was held up to indicate three minutes of time to be added on.
As the teams headed to the changing rooms, I quickly headed to the bar to warm up. The entrances to both were unusually side by side, and I could only smile as I overheard one of the girls say to her team mate ‘I can’t feel my legs’ – whilst I was similarly thinking the same!
At half-time Kelly Chambers brought on Emma Harries, replacing (or resting?) the hard-working Danish International Sanne Troelsgaard.
The Royals were looking to put the game out of reach with Lily Woodham setting the marker with an early long-range shot but just wide. Charlie Wellings also couldn’t hit the target and, from a good move down the Reading left, Amalie Eikeland worked her way into the penalty area and tried to place her shot into the far corner of the goal but put it just wide. A couple of early escapes for Coventry.
Kelly Chambers will feel that the luck of refereeing decisions hasn’t balanced itself out over the season, to date anyway, and she will again feel disappointed when it looked like Emma Harries was fouled in the Coventry penalty area – but with the officials waving play on as the Royals striker sat rubbing her ankles while lying injured on the icy ground.
Just over the hour mark Charlie Wellings finished the match off with her long-range effort again somehow beating the United goalkeeper to cross the line for Reading’s fourth and final goal of the night. 4-0.
Kelly Chambers took the opportunity to immediately bring on fresh legs with Gemma Evans replaced by Brooke Hendrix and, just 10 minutes later, completed the final substitutions. Double goal scorer Natasha Dowie and Amalie Eikeland left the field for Lauren Wade and Tia Primmer.
Although it was a comfortable evening for the Royals, Grace Moloney (starting her first match since the Liverpool) was called into action a couple of times – both times reacting very quickly and bravely to prevent to good chances for United. Late in the first half it looked like Keeley Davies, the Coventry striker, was favourite to latch on to a pass over the Reading defence but Moloney was quickly aware and won the challenge fairly, and importantly, as it was just outside of her penalty area.
In the second half, on the edge of her six-yard box, Moloney was required to dive bravely at the feet of Mary McAteer, the Coventry number nine coming off worse and receiving treatment. Two great blocks and defending from the Reading ‘keeper who is struggling to get back into the Reading starting line up for the WSL matches.
Coventry were unlucky not to get a late consolation goal with a long-range effort from substitute Simran Jhamat fizzing past the Reading upright, much to a relieved Grace Moloney.
The Royals finish on a high but now have to wait for the last group match to be decided between Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur to see if they will progress any further in this cup competition.
There’s also a bit of a wait now with the next WSL match coming away to Everton on January 15 2023.
Have a super Christmas and New Year and let’s hope that Reading’s recent run of form and improvement continues into the second half of the season in 2023.