When you haven’t won a match in your last six WSL games (two draws) it’s not ideal for your next match to be away to Chelsea, with the Blues knowing that a win today would put them in pole position to be champions. Let’s also not forget Chelsea’s last outing saw them take maximum points in what was a record 9-0 WSL scoreline versus Leicester at the King Power Stadium.
So although Reading FC started the match with ‘bragging rights’ following the 1-0 victory at the SCL Stadium earlier in the season (also televised by Sky), they finished the evening on the wrong end of a 5-0 scoreline and another WSL defeat.
Kelly Chambers made three changes today with Emma Harries, Faye Bryson and Rachel Rowe returning to the starting line-up, with Tash Dowie and Sanne Troelsgaard on the substitutes’ bench and Justine Vanhaevermaet missing through illness. Similar to the match in December, Kelly Chambers also reverted to a back five, with the evergreen, ever-dependable and ever-versatile Tash Harding slotting into central defence. With Tash Dowie on the bench it was down to Rachel Rowe to lead the charge, in a false number nine position, flanked by the hard-working pairing of Emma Harries and Deanne Rose in a largely counter-attacking tactic.
Although a heavy defeat, the Royals were very good for the majority of the first half, tactics working, defending well and carving out good positions on the counter attack. In the opening half hour Chelsea were largely constrained to a Jessie Fleming right-foot shot and a Beth England header - both efforts curling and looping over Grace Moloney and the Reading crossbar to safety.
There was a let-off and early warning in the 37th minute when Beth England appeared to be through on goal but found herself wide of the Reading goalkeeper, who had also lost her footing and the Chelsea striker failed to find a blue shirt with her cross. Five minutes before half time it was Beth England who was this time successful in her assist, with a headed cross finding Jessie Fleming in the penalty area, nicely chesting the ball down for a volley into the Reading goal from close range.
Just before the half-time whistle, Rachel Rowe made herself space on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area, only to see her shot fly high and wide of the goal. A shame for the Royals to finish the first half 1-0 down in what was a disciplined team performance and effort.
With the quality that Chelsea have (even without Fran Kirkby and Lauren James), the Reading players, fans and coaching team knew it was going to be an uphill struggle from here. This was further compounded when, in the 52 minute, Faye Bryson was closed down quickly and slipped, only to see Beth England exchange passes with Guro Reiten who crossed the ball back to the Chelsea centre forward to put the blues 2-0 up.
The normally unflappable and calm Kelly Chambers received a yellow card after venting her frustrations at the officials after what looked like a blatant foul on Amelie Eikeland waved away by the woman in black. The Reading manager tried to change the tide, and the mood, introducing Sanne Troelsgaard and later 17-year-old Tia Primmer in place of Emma Harries and Tash Harding respectively.
Primmer unfortunately came on to the field after Sam Kerr had bagged her 15th goal of the season and putting the Chelsea team in to a 3-0 lead, after Faye Bryson was ruthlessly punished after miscontrolling a pass on the edge of the Reading penalty area.
Sam Kerr grabbed a brace (and 16th goal of the season) after easily converting a left-foot cross from Erin Cuthbert, one of a number of stand-out Chelsea players that enjoyed very good performances this evening. In time added on, and with most Reading fans hoping the match would finish soon, there was unfortunately still time for Beth England to get her second goal of the night, from the penalty spot, after a foul and night that Faye Bryson will soon want to forget.
It’s fair to say that financially it’s not a level playing field for Reading alongside the majority of the WSL teams, and especially the top four or five teams. With Liverpool Women promoted this afternoon (congratulations) and Birmingham City looking likely to be relegated, this will see Kelly Chambers’ team as the only remaining (parent company backed) Championship team, all others presumably having finance, resources and backing from their Premier League status.
With three games remaining the Royals are still very capable of a change of form and good finish to the end of the season. Next up sees West Ham United visiting the SCL Stadium, on April 24. See you there!