With the FA Women’s League Cup being played at Wimbledon (next weekend), I can’t think of an opportunity, other than the FA Cup, for Reading Women to have the chance to play at Wembley Stadium. The winner of today’s fifth-round tie would book themselves a quarter-final match and a step closer to this chance to play at the UK’s largest stadium.
What a shame then that Reading were drawn against West Ham! They feel like a bogey team and today was no exception to this, edging the Royals out of the cup, again, scoring the 1-0 winner in extra time. I don’t have fond memories of matches against West Ham (last season, in the WSL, West Ham ran out comprehensive 5-0 winners here at the Select Car Leasing Stadium) and it’s difficult to forget the cruel 2019 FA Cup semi-final defeat, on penalties, at Adam’s Park (Reading’s home stadium at the time).
Reading started the game with two changes from the last WSL match, losing 4-1 away to Brighton. Rhiannon Stewart in goal (no Grace Moloney in the squad today) and Deanna Cooper starting as one of three central defenders (alongside Gemma Evans and Tash Harding) - with Tia Primmer dropping to the bench.
The weather conditions couldn’t have been more different from the Brighton downpour, with the home fans basking, coats off, in glorious sunshine. With three quarter of the pitch also drenched in sun, it was the West Ham keeper, Mackenie Arnold, that found herself with the sun in her eyes, although not choosing to wear a cap.
Reading started the brighter of the two teams, pressuring West Ham and controlling much of the first half. The Hammers’ threat came from counter attacks but neither goalkeeper had a save to speak of in the first 45 minutes. Mackenzie Arnold, in a moment of panic, got booked for handling the ball outside of her box, receiving a yellow card and subsequently parrying the resultant free kick with no Reading player able to capitalise on the rebound. 0-0 at half time and you just got that feeling, again, that, inevitably this was going to go West Ham’s way.
The second half also saw the Royals start brightly with Tash Dowie having a couple of half chances, a shot from a tight angle and a header, both wide of the goal and Tash Harding with a header, easily caught by the keeper. Deanne Rose, on the attack, found herself dragged wide but still managed to cut the ball back nicely but no Reading strikers could get on the end of this. From an Emma Harries pass, Tash Dowie also turned nicely in the penalty area but saw her shot turned past the post by the busier West Ham keeper.
West Ham made a double substitution in the 61st minute and a further one on 74 minutes to try and change their fortune - with the Royals also bringing on Rachel Rowe for Emma Harries.
As the second half was drawing to an end, West Ham finished the stronger with Katerina Svitkova and the lively Yui Hasegawa seeing their efforts saved by the Royals’ keeper, Rhiannon Stewart. Justine Vanhaevermaet replaced Deanne Rose, who had worked tirelessly all afternoon and looked like she was carrying a knock, after a great strike and effort in the first half and some tough challenges. 0-0 at full time and with the cup matches requiring a result on the day, a further 30 minutes of action to follow.
As the sun finally dipped below the stadium, it was timely and fitting that the Royals’ chance of a trip to Wembley, and any silverware, also slipped away. In the 107th minute, and just on the stroke of half time in extra time, it was West Ham who scored what was to become the only and winning goal - with a strike from substitute Dagny Brynjarsdottir from a tight angle.
Reading, with nothing to lose, pushed Tash Harding into attack and although they pressed for an equaliser and a chance of penalties, it was all a bit kick-and-rush and aimless long balls. West Ham successfully ran down the clock, picking up a couple of yellow cards for time-wasting along the way, but ultimately winning the match 1-0 and keeping their status as a bogey team.
Reading can now concentrate on the league, starting with a tough match on Wednesday away to Arsenal. If this next fixture wasn’t already hard enough, the extra time today certainly won’t have helped with the preparation either. Fingers crossed they enjoy a rest day tomorrow and recuperate quickly before their journey to north London.