Reading Women go into the last match of the season (Manchester City, SCL Stadium Sunday May 8 midday kick-off) with three points and three draws in their last nine WSL matches after today’s match, away to Leicester City, finished goalless.
There was only change for both sides in their respective starting line-ups. A change of Tash-s for Kelly Chamber’s team with Tash (Tats) Dowie leading the line and Tash Harding, normally a regular stalwart choice for the manager, a substitute. With a small squad, the Royals again found themselves with plenty of room on the bench, being able to name only six reserves, including two goalkeepers (Hannah Poulter and Rhiannon Stewart).
Leicester City also had a ‘Tash’ change, with Natasha Flint a substitute (in comparison, one of nine on the bench), Sam Tierney starting and for Reading fans it was nice to see ex-Royals player Sophie Howard starting for the Foxes.
Neither team began the match in great form. RFC were winless in eight in the WSL (nine if you count the FA Cup exit to West Ham United) with only four goals scored. Leicester City were in similar form, starting the game just four points ahead of Birmingham City, in the only relegation position and on the end of some very heavy recent defeats, including the 9-0 defeat away to Chelsea (and 7-0 defeat to Chelsea again in the FA Cup).
Although it was pretty much a non-eventful first half, with Reading seeing more possession, it was Leicester that arguably had the better chances. The hosts' Shannon O’Brien had a couple of early half chances, the first cutting in from the right, got in front of Gemma Evans, to see her shot go agonisingly close, hitting the post and away to safety. A later similar effort, this time cutting in from the left, saw O’Brien’s shot snatched at and high over the crossbar.
At half time the Royals' only chances were limited to a Tash Dowie header, over the crossbar and a Deanne Rose shot, saved comfortably by Foxes goalkeeper Demi Lambourne, and with neither goalkeeper really troubled in the opening 45 minutes.
As the second half resumed I’m sure Reading fans, like me, were hoping for something special - like the home-leg Tash Dowie lobbed goal - to ignite the second half and put themselves in with a realistic chance of a respectable seventh-place finish.
Although Reading enjoyed a few corners, the breakthrough didn’t look like coming. Kelly Chambers also used some of her limited resources bringing on Tash Harding for Deanna Cooper (Justine Vanhaevermaet slotting into the vacant centre back position) and later Sanne Troelsgaard leaving the field for Tia Primmer.
The match didn’t really spring into life until the last 10 minutes, again with Leicester very unlucky to grab a late winner and victory at the King Power Stadium. In probably the best move of the match, Foxes' Natasha Flint, on as a substitute, saw her shot from the edge of the penalty area saved well with a flying full-stretch Grace Moloney diving to her left.
The tension and atmosphere grew as the home side had another big chance, from a corner, with a downward header just passing wide of the Reading goal. With a minute of normal time remaining, Royals Tia Primmer unselfishly headed back across goal when it looked liked heading for the goal was a better option.
With five minutes of time added there was, surprisingly, still time for four more huge chances to break the deadlock. Leicester won a free kick on the edge of the Royals' penalty area and Natasha Flint’s low strike deflected off the yellow defending wall and, with hearts in mouth, saw the slow-motion football again hit the post.
The 93rd minute saw Reading's Gemma Evans' swivelled shot saved. Tash Dowie and Tia Primmer were inches away from connecting in front of the Leicester goal and, finally, with nearly the last kick of the match, Grace Moloney was again called into action after another late Leicester effort. A great finish to the match with both teams probably equally pleased to have kept a clean sheet and equally disappointed not to have grabbed a winner and three valuable points.
I thought I would finish with a special mention and tribute to Brooke Chaplen who sadly announced her retirement from professional football earlier this week after resultant corrective surgery, from a tumour on her fibula, means she will be unable to continue her far-too-short career. A super player to watch, 143 appearances, 50 matches won and 29 goals scored and I understand there will, quite rightly and well deserved, be a celebration of her Royals career before kick off at the final match of the season next Sunday. See you there.