Today was Reading’s second North London opponent in five days, with Tottenham Hotspur the visitors at the SCL Stadium this afternoon, in what turned out to be a very entertaining 0-0 and well-earned point and clean sheet against a high-flying Spurs team.
Kelly Chambers made four changes from the mid-week defeat (to Arsenal) with Deanne Rose, Rachel Rowe and Justine Vanhaevermaet in for Emma Harries, Tia Primmer and Sanne Troelsgaard all dropping to the bench. Grace Moloney returned in goal, enjoying a pre-match presentation for her 200th appearance for the Royals.
Spurs, in their purple third kit today (I’ve never understood the need for a third kit…), fired an early warning in the fourth minute, with Ashleigh Neville cutting in from Reading’s right and forcing a great close-range save by Grace Moloney, one-handed, diving to her right.
This was quickly followed by two Spurs corners, the first headed away by Gemma Evans and the second punched to safety by Grace Moloney, only to see Deanna Cooper flattened in the process. After a bit of medical attention, Cooper was back on her feet and back in action for what was a busy afternoon for the centre back. It was a tough, physical match and Tottenham picked up their first, of four, yellow cards with Ria Percival going into the referee’s notebook.
With five minutes until half time the Royals were unlucky not to pinch an opening goal. Lily Woodham, who worked tirelessly in defence and in attack all afternoon, put in a perfect left-foot cross, met with equal precision by Amalie Eikeland, on the volley, forcing a good save and corner by the Spurs keeper, Tina-Riikka Korpela.
Reading’s best chance of the first half fell to Tash Harding, after another cross by Lily Woodham, but the ball just wouldn’t come down and Tash’s half-volley attempt lobbed not only the keeper but the crossbar too. Unlucky.
After another injury and clash of heads for Faye Bryson and Kyah Simon, the latter requiring a bandage for a cut, it was the visitors that could and should have gone into half time in the lead. In the two minutes of time added, Deanna Cooper was outmuscled by Rachel Williams and in what looked like a certain goal somehow managed to put her shot wide of the post.
Almost immediately, Ashleigh Neville had another chance, this time from Reading’s left and with the most exquisite skill chipped the ball over Grace Moloney which, luckily for the Royals, hit the post and crossbar angle and fortuitously bounced on the goal line and across the goal line to nothing. The Reading team were relieved to hear the half-time whistle and the fans too, to escape a biting north wind to grab a warm drink and pie or sausage roll.
There were no changes at half time and this time it was Reading that came out of the starting blocks first. Rachel Rowe, with a ball over the Spurs defence, found Deanne Rose on the advance and was unlucky with her shot, as the ball got caught just behind her, and deflected off for a corner. From this, Lily Woodham’s left-footed delivery beat the Spurs keeper but hit the cross bar instead.
Kelly Chambers made a change on 64 minutes with the hard-working midfielder Rachel Rowe being replaced by Sanne Troelsgaard.
The Royals continued to work hard, Tash Harding chasing down the Spurs keeper who kicked the ball out under pressure. After fouls on Amalie Eikeland and Tash Harding, a Lily Woodham deep free kick was headed back by Justine Vanhaevermaet only to see Gemma Evans lash at a shot which cleared the goal from close range. A bit more composure from the centre back would have seen the Royals take the lead.
On 75 minutes, it was Reading who found themselves lucky again after a very bizarre bounce over Grace Moloney saw a Reading defender (Deanne Cooper?) in a goal-line panic clearance smash this against the Reading keeper with the ball somehow ricocheting to safety.
With seven minutes remaining, and another Reading substitution - Tash Dowie making way for Emma Harries - it was once again Lily Woodham who created another opportunity for the Royals. A slide pass to Tash Harding, on the left wing, who will be disappointed with her cut back, being unable to find a blue and white from a good angle and chance.
At the final whistle, a draw was probably a fair result with neither team able to find that clinical finish. Positives include a clean sheet, a point that takes them above Brighton and Hove Albion to an impressive sixth place (and still with a game in hand over the Seagulls) and still chasing down Manchester City - who they play in just over a week.
It was also pleasing to see (and hear) what looked like a very good turnout from the fans this afternoon (Reading FC never announce the attendance on the day) and probably the best vocal support from the enthusiastic and young Royals crowd that enjoyed a good afternoon of football.
It’s Manchester United next, 11.30am on Saturday, at the SCL Stadium, with the match also being shown as the featured game on Sky. See you there.