Normally watching Reading FC Women on a Sunday is a pleasant and enjoyable experience to look forward to, particularly if you’ve watched the men’s attempt on the Saturday. Today, however, there was nothing enjoyable to take away from this afternoon’s trip to The People’s Pension Stadium (with the exception of advertised and signposted free parking - thank you Brighton FC!)
Brighton started today’s match with just one point from their last seven WSL matches and without a win in 10, across all competitions. This, of course, included the Royals’ victory here just two weeks ago in the Vitality FA Cup, winning 3-2, with Tia Primmer scoring the winner and her first senior goal.
In contrast, Reading started the game in record-breaking, five-match, winning form. Over the last couple of seasons the Royals also boasted impressive stats against Brighton, having won seven matches and drawn once in all competitions. The line-up included one (forced) change from last week with Primmer starting in place of Justine Vanhaevermaet who didn’t feature in the squad.
Brighton got us underway on what was a horrible, wet, windy and cold February afternoon, immediately making their intentions clear, ignoring the previous stats and form and attacking the Reading goal. They dominated possession early, forcing two corners in the first four minutes. This was a sign of things to follow, for pretty much the whole of the match, and it took Reading nearly 15 minutes just to get in the Brighton penalty area, with a Lily Woodham corner eventually rebounding off Emma Harries harmlessly for a goal kick.
During the first half the Seagulls were in total control and deservedly opened the scoring after 19 minutes from another corner headed in from close range, by Kayleigh Green. The weather was no excuse and didn’t dampen the energy, work rate, possession and passing ability of the home team throughout the remainder of the first half.
Reading struggled to get a foothold and the half-time stats only confirmed this, with Brighton enjoying eight corners and coming close several times. Grace Moloney produced two back-to-back saves from corners just before half time and although the ball was headed in by Brighton’s captain Victoria Williams, this was disallowed to keep the score line to 1-0 at the break.
Kelly Chambers made a substitution during the interval with Primmer leaving the pitch, replaced by the more experienced Rachel Rowe. If the few travelling fans (and those watching on the FA Player) were expecting another bounce-back, similar to last weekend’s half-time score but eventual victory away to Everton, they were left disappointed.
In a repeat of the first half, Brighton immediately took control of the game, creating three great chances in the opening three minutes, with Aileen Whelan hitting the crossbar with what was probably meant to be a cross. An early let-off but a warning sign of things to come, that the Royals simply didn’t appear to be able to stop. In a rare attack a Tash Dowie cross was met nicely by Rachel Rowe, only to see her shot blocked by a Brighton defender.
On 52 minutes Brighton extended their lead to 2-0: a break down Reading’s right featured a nice pass and movement for Kayleigh Green to slot home, at a tight angle, past the Reading keeper, for her second of the match. The next few minutes also saw Brighton with chance after chance and corner after corner with Victoria Williams’ goal-bound header stopped on the goal line and from the the resultant scramble Maya Le Tissier prodded the ball into the net for 3-0.
Another Brighton attack, again, down the Royals’ right-hand side saw the cross travel all the way across the penalty area, where Emma Koivisto controlled, turned and scored past a lunging Reading defence and diving Grace Moloney for 4-0.
With 20 minutes to go Kelly Chambers took off Reading striker Deanne Rose and brought on centre back Deanna Cooper to presumably strengthen the defence and keep the score line down to just the four. It was a Tash Harding header off the goal line that stopped Brighton scoring a fifth and Amalie Eikeland scored a consolation goal, from what looked like a cross which looped its way over the Brighton keeper and into the net. To compound what was a miserable afternoon, Lily Woodham, who worked tirelessly all match, limped off with a late injury, replaced by Bethan Roberts.
The excitement and talk of a Champions League place came crashing down to earth today. To be fair to Reading and Kelly Chambers, this optimism was driven by the press, glowing reports by me (?) and from the the fans after enjoying wonderful recent performances and unprecedented success. We now go into an international break and will return to the Select Car Leasing Stadium on Sunday 27th February at 2pm, for what will be a terrific FA Cup match versus West Ham.