Recent performances against West Ham United have been very frustrating to watch and this afternoon was, unfortunately, no different. The Hammers must look forward to their visits to the SCL Stadium. Last season they ran out comfortable winners, in February they knocked the Royals out of the FA Cup and today ended with a 2-1 away victory for the claret and blues.
With three remaining matches, this was a missed opportunity for the blue and white hoops to finish strong, with a potential impressive sixth-place position up for grabs. The motivation was the same for both teams, the victor leapfrogging Brighton and Hove Albion after their surprise defeat to Birmingham City yesterday.
Kelly Chambers will certainly have an excuse in what is (and has been) a very fragile and threadbare squad, highlighted by the recent news of Emma Harries’ horrible long-term injury (whilst away with the England under-23s) and, today, only able to name five substitutes on the bench (compared to West Ham United with nine).
The Hammers started the match on a run of three defeats, although this did include last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final loss to Manchester City. By contrast, the Royals have only picked up two points in their last seven league matches (plus the said FA Cup exit to West Ham United), only scoring two goals along the way.
Kelly Chambers had two forced changes: Emma Harries and Chloe Peplow both not in the squad, with Justine Vanhaevermaet and Sanne Troelsgaard coming into what looked like a 5-2-3 formation that, quite frankly, didn’t appear to work well at all today. Tash Harding slotted into a centre back three, Justine Vanhaevermaet and Amelie Eikeland the midfield pairing and Deanne Rose, Rachel Rowe and surprisingly Sanne Troelsgaard leading the line.
The excited, expectant and noisy home support saw the Royals kick off and immediately enjoy an early attack and corner. A false promise quickly descended as the remaining 43 minutes of the first half was pretty much dominated by the away team.
On eight minutes, Grace Moloney was called into action, saving a close-range effort with an outstretched leg and, luckily, seeing the follow-up move and header ruled out for offside. Within a minute, it was the Royals’ left back (and a contender for player of the season), Lily Woodham, with a last-ditch block at the back post stopping the Hammers from taking an early lead.
Although the half-time stats showed the corner count as 6-4 to West Ham and a 0-0 score line, this didn’t fairly reflect the match performance with West Ham United going down the tunnel presumably disappointed that they were not ahead.
On 31 minutes, West Ham’s striker Adriana Leon should really have given them the lead, finding herself onside but unable to beat Moloney with another fine save, this time diving to her right.
Two minutes later and Lily Woodham had the Royals’ best effort of the first half, seeing her left-foot shot turned round by the Hammers’ goalkeeper, Mackenzie Arnold, after some great battling play by Rachel Rowe.
Again, on 35 minutes West Ham United could have taken the lead, with Ariana Leon this time heading over the Reading goal, from close range, after a great left-foot cross.
After a first-half performance on the back foot, I thought Kelly Chambers might have made a change to the formation, a substitution or both. She didn’t and whatever the team talk was at half time quickly went out of the window when the Royals found themselves 1-0 down within a minute of the restart - via a great strike from Emma Snerle.
On the hour, Kelly Chambers made a change with striker Tash Dowie coming on for Sanne Troelsgaard. To be fair, it could have been a choice of any of the Royals’ front three, who all struggled to get into the match and had very few chances provided to them.
The Royals saw another injury blow to the squad, this time Deanna Cooper leaving the field and young Tia Primmer coming on to slot into midfield. I thought this might be an ideal opportunity for Kelly Chambers to change the formation - as it didn’t appear to be working to me - but she kept to her decision and, instead moved Justine Vanhaevermaet into the centre-defence trio.
West Ham United also made two changes and, just to show their depth in the squad and a luxury Reading don’t have, made a further three substitutions later in the match.
On 82 minutes the claret and blues streamed forward and cut a pass back to the very talented number 14, Yui Hasegwa, who controlled the pass in the box and comfortably slotted the ball past Grace Moloney to put the Hammers into a 2-0 lead.
With five minutes of time added on, Faye Bryson gave the home crowd some late hope, seeing her shot deflected into the West Ham United goal for 2-1. Any hopes of an even later equaliser (similar to Emma Harries at the away fixture) didn’t happen, with Faye Bryson again seeing another shot and last kick of the match comfortably saved by Mackenzie Arnold.
This defeat means the Royals now sit eighth in the WSL. They’re away to Leicester next weekend (at the King Power Stadium) and finish at home against an in-form, and FA Cup finalist, Manchester City. See you there.