Today’s match saw the club celebrating International Women’s Day and this game didn’t let the occasion down, with an entertaining end-to-end contest and scoreline that really could have been anything (take your pick) and much more than the 1-3 defeat for the Royals.
It was another early 11.30 Sky TV kick-off (and the second same-day fixture clash with the men’s team who were away to Nottingham Forest). The visitors, Manchester United, remaining third in the league, edging Tottenham Hotspur for a Champions League place and valiantly attempting to chase down Chelsea for a second-place finish. After today’s result Reading also retain sixth place, just one point ahead of Brighton, but are under threat from West Ham United who play Aston Villa tomorrow.
There were two changes for the Royals today. No sign of important players Tash Dowie or Amelie Eikeland in the squad (and only five players on the substitutes bench). Emma Harries and Sanne Troelsgaard came in for a very bold 4-3-3 attacking line-up by Kelly Chambers.
Manchester United kicked off, both teams sporting their home kits (a rare sight nowadays) and within 15 seconds seeing a right-foot shot from the United right hitting the crossbar. This was an early warning of things to come as, within five minutes, the Royals found themselves 0-1 down. A perfect delivery from left back Hannah Blundell found Leah Galton between Deanna Cooper and Gemma Evans to easily nod the ball into the Reading net.
Reading’s attacking line-up meant they were also a threat going forward and on eight minutes Rachel Rowe found space, centrally, on the edge of the box but sliced her right-foot shot wide of the goal. Within seconds United had an almost identical opportunity but this time their shot was caught comfortably by Grace Moloney.
Manchester were making errors in defence and the Royals’ equaliser came from an error by goal creator Hannah Blundell (Blunder?), whose cross-field pass was intercepted by Rachel Rowe who, in turn, found Deanne Rose for a great left-foot finish. 1-1. Reading nearly took the lead with Sanne Troelsgaard’s shot, from a tight angle on the right, just wide of the far post.
On 25 minutes Leah Galton grabbed a brace, just onside (‘just’ is enough as I’m often reminded by my better half), rounding Grace Moloney to put the Reds into a 2-1 lead.
Kelly Chambers could have quite easily played safe with the formation to try and nullify high-flyers Manchester United but she kept faith with the attacking line-up which, although sometimes exposed in defence (far too much room for United behind the Reading defence), also saw some great opportunities for the front three. The move of the match came from the blue and white hoops with Emma Harries to Deanne Rose, seeing her cross deflected for a Reading corner - where Rachel Rowe then headed over the crossbar from a deep Lily Woodham corner.
In an end-to-end first half (and whole match really) United’s number nine, Martha Thomas, rounded Grace Moloney only to see her goal-bound effort stopped by a last-ditch bit of great defending from centre back Deanna Cooper.
In a bizarre few seconds, United’s Ona Batlle cut in from the right and struck a left-foot shot that hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced over the line by some margin. How the assistant linesman didn’t see that was a mystery (and surely an appointment due at the opticians on Monday?). It, unfortunately, didn’t matter as within the same move, literally seconds later, Alessia Russo struck her shot from the left hand side this time, with an unlucky defending deflection, from Deanna Cooper, seeing the ball fly past the Reading keeper for a 1-3 half-time lead.
In a term that I often find patronising from commentators (and shouldn’t really find myself using), the second half saw a very spirited, energetic and bold attempt by the home team. Although United pressurised and could or should have scored more, equally so should have Reading.
Mary Earps (‘England’s number one’?) pulled off a great double save from Deanne Rose, first from a right-foot effort and immediately rebounding to strike with her left. It’s also worth a special mention for the talent of Deanne Rose. Her energy, pace and ability to use both feet for passing, crossing and striking the ball is a very rare, and underrated, sight to see at any level of football. To prove this, Deanne Rose again also had another right-foot/left-foot attempt later in the match too.
I often criticise match-day sponsors for choosing the goal scorer as player of the match and, in a similar unimaginative guise, my eyebrows were raised when I heard the Sky commentators giving player of the match to Leah Galton...
Substitutions saw United’s goalscorer Alessia Russo replaced by Kirsty Hanson and, for Reading, Sanne Troelsgaard off for Chloe Peplow. Reading continued to press in an attempt to get something out of the match, seeing efforts headed off the line and blocked by a resolute Red defence. Although the second half was goalless it wasn’t due to United sitting back defending or a lack of efforts by either team to grab another goal.
A cracking match of football and although a defeat today, some really promising and positive things to build on in time for the next match, again versus Manchester but this time away to the blue half of City - 7pm kick off Wednesday 16th March.