The first two days of this week started well for my RoyaIs viewing, witnessing a rare win for the under-23s on Monday (vs Burnley) and an unexpected away draw for the men (vs Bournemouth) on Tuesday.
After travelling the 250 miles from the South Coast to the North West, I was hoping that the women could follow suit and pull off a hat-trick of unexpected results up in the blue half of Manchester. It, unfortunately, wasn’t to be, with City scoring two late goals to win 2-0.
To answer the rhetorical question and cliché of rain in Manchester, let’s just say they didn’t need to water the pitch before kick-off. The journey up and pre-kick-off weather was hideous but it kindly stopped raining, as we took our seats, the full (not blue) moon visible over The Academy Stadium.
It was my first visit to the home of the Manchester City Women and it’s an impressive set-up - literally across the road from The Etihad (because one stadium isn’t enough…) A fans’ area complete with table tennis, table football (colours of course blue and red) and free hot drinks available to all fans. We managed to select our seats right by the Manchester City drummer that, surprisingly, didn’t annoy me at all. At the risk of sounding like a southern yokel (I also enjoyed my tram ride to the ground) I was perhaps distracted by amusing northern-accent comments, during the match, such as ‘flipping Nora’ after City missed another good chance.
It was a match largely dominated by City, especially the first half when they must have gone into the changing rooms wondering how it was still 0-0. Grace Moloney was well positioned for player of the match after just 45 minutes, the Royals’ last line of defence pulling off fine saves and good positioning and blocks to keep a clean sheet. Khadija Shaw and Julie Blakstad created many good opportunities, helped by the odd bit of bad defending, but were also equally guilty of poor quality finishing.
Reading only enjoyed two corners in the first half and, from both of these, they could have conceded, with City counter-attacking and Julie Blakstad hitting a ball high over the crossbar from close range for another let off for the Royals.
Reading made one change with Chloe Peplow starting in place of Rachel Rowe in another attacking formation from Kelly Chambers, in what looked like a 4-2-1-3 line-up. Faye Bryson was struggling to contain the City winger and, after 30 minutes, Tash Harding swapped sides to help out, with Emma Harries going over to Reading’s left.
With resolute defending, opportunities missed, some fine Grace Moloney goalkeeping and a bit of luck, the Royals went into the changing rooms at half time all level, at 0-0.
The second half started much better for the Royals, switching back to their attacking formation and things were looking promising. City huffed and puffed but the breakthrough didn’t look like it was going to come and maybe, just maybe, the Royals could pinch a winner.
Manchester City made three substitutions, showing their hand and frustration by bringing on Ellen White and still it looked like the team in yellow was going to hang on. It was the unlikely goalscorer and left back Demi Stokes that, unfortunately, broke the deadlock with 17 minutes remaining, a left-foot finish tucked nicely in the corner of the Reading goal.
Kelly Chambers replaced Emma Harries with Rachel Rowe but to no avail. And with six minutes remaining Lauren Hemp confirmed the win, following up on a long-range effort from Ellen White that I’m sure Grace Moloney will be disappointed she didn’t deal with as well as she wanted. Georgia Stanway also missed a great chance at the end, pulling her shot wide and the match finishing 2-0 to the home side.
I’m generally impressed with a Kelly Chambers team performance, and the style, effort and commitment they put in and today was no exception. Stoic defending and, on another day, we might have come away with all three points. At least I had my tram trip journey back to the car to look forward to!