When Reading played Aston Villa earlier this season at the SCL Stadium, they hadn’t won a match and hadn’t scored a goal either. The Royals ran out winners 3-0 (Amalie Eikeland, Rachel Rowe and Tash Dowie) and went on a great run of wins and performances from there.
After five matches without a win in all competitions and only one draw, Reading started today’s match hoping for a similar springboard but it wasn’t to be. The match finished all square at 1-1 with the sides sharing the points.
Both teams also started the match struggling for goals, Reading with two in their last five matches and Aston Villa failing to score in three successive 1-0 defeats. Rather bizarrely, Villa haven’t won a home league match (at the Banks Stadium, Walsall) since their opening game back in September against Leicester City.
It didn’t come as a surprise to find the match goalless at half time. Aston Villa certainly enjoyed the best chances of the first half and should really have taken the lead in time added on with Jill Scott, on loan from Manchester City, missing a good chance, certainly by her standards, heading a free kick over the bar from close range.
Villa started the match spritely, with an early offside chance quickly followed by a legitimate great opportunity blazed over, from close range, by Romona Petzelberger after a good cross in from the right. On 12 minutes Sanne Troelsgaard had a similar chance, following a parry by Villa 'keeper Hannah Hampton, but she couldn’t keep her composure and lashed a shot high over the bar too.
Villa’s Alisha Lehman remained a threat down the Aston Villa right all match and, in the 20th minute, saw her cross flash dangerously all the way across the Reading goal.
The second half started with no changes and followed a similar pattern with ex-Reading midfielder (and old favourite of mine) Remi Allen enjoying two good opportunities. The first was fired at close range straight at Grace Moloney and a second effort from the edge of the penalty area was comfortably saved by the Reading 'keeper.
On the hour, Kelly Chambers made two changes, with Tash Dowie leaving the field (her first start for a couple of matches since her Covid lay-off) for Emma Harries and Sanne Troelsgaard being replaced by Rachael Rowe.
It was Reading that took the lead with a penalty conversion in the 70th minute, with Justine Vanhaevermaet sending the Lioness keeper, Hannah Hampton, the wrong way from the spot kick. The penalty was conceded by ex-Reading left back Maz Pacheco bringing down Amalie Eikeland, after a nice touch to round the Villa defender.
With Villa not in any great goal-scoring form, and having not beaten the Royals since returning to top-flight football, I’m sure Reading were confident of holding on and securing a long-awaited victory. They were, however, surprised by a wonderful equalising goal from the home team. The troublesome Alisha Lehman put in a delightful cross met with an equally stunning header at the back post by Romona Petzelberger to make it 1-1 with 13 minutes on normal time remaining.
Both teams missed late chances to steal the match when a draw was probably a fair result. Remi Allen again found herself right in front of the goal, Reading defenders appealing for offside, only to see her close-range effort saved by the right glove of Grace Moloney and cleared to safety by Deanna Cooper. At the other end Emma Harries laid the ball off nicely for Rachel Rowe, only to see her shot dragged just wide of the post.
That draw leaves Reading seventh in the league, equal with West Ham United and two points ahead of Brighton and Hove Albion - both teams playing tomorrow.
There are now only four league matches remaining - two away and two at the SCL Stadium. Next Sunday the Royals travel to Chelsea where I’m assuming that, following new changes in rules and regulations, fans can now travel to the match. It is, however, not starting at the most appealing of times (particularly for a younger crowd before a school day) with the kick off at 18.45, although it is also being broadcast live on Sky TV.