Today’s last match of the Women's Super League (WSL) season ended in a now familiar defeat, at the Select Car Leasing (SCL) Stadium, Reading losing 4-0 to a very much full-strength and in-form Manchester City team.
This latest defeat means the Royals finish the season without a win in their last 10 WSL matches and two points (two goalless draws), from a possible 30 available.
It looked to be a good crowd too (there’s never any attendance announcement at the SCL Stadium), with a fair few Manchester City fans in fine voice (they also brought a drum along with them). Although the players were bathed in a glorious sun drenched pitch, the hopeful, if not at all expectant, Royals fans cheered the team on from the unusually shaded (due to the early midday kick-off) Sir John Madejski East Stand.
Kelly Chambers made one change today with stalwart and club captain Tash Harding making her final appearance in the blue and white hoops (the club announced this week she will be leaving) and Sanne Troelsgaard making way for her. The ever-versatile Tash Harding (played in every position bar goalkeeper) this time slotted in as a part of a three-player central defence, with the usual wing backs of Lily Woodham and Faye Bryson and the attacking front three led by Natasha Dowie, flanked by Deanne Rose and Rachel Rowe. The central-midfield partnership was Justine Vanhaevermaet and, as announced midweek, double player of the season Amalie Eikeland.
The Reading team knew they would have to work hard today and, to be fair, they did. Although I’m sure Kelly Chambers will again say that her team can defend better, the big scoreline accurately reflects not only the better quality of the Manchester City team (and squad) but also the class and gap between the top three or four teams in the WSL.
At the away fixture the Royals managed to keep City at bay for just over 70 minutes, before eventually finishing on the wrong side of a 2-0 defeat. Today, the Royals found themselves 2-0 down by half time - a nice finish from Lauren Hemp after a deft pass from Georgia Stanway, and Khadija Shaw finishing from close range after a cut-back from Stanway again, where Tash Harding will be disappointed she didn’t see the ball out of play, on the byline.
Reading were not playing badly, the effort and application were good and they were creating half chances on the counter attack. The battling Rachel Rowe and Natasha Dowie were giving the Manchester City defence something to think about and the pace and strength of Deanne Rose meant Lucy Bronze probably found herself defending more than she expected, twice finding herself on her backside with a trailing Deanne Rose unable to capitalise with a quality finish or cross.
For much of the second half the Royals, although not looking like really threatening Manchester City, didn't look like conceding either. There was some great work and surging runs, particularly down the left-hand side, with Natasha Dowie unlucky not to get on the end of a Lily Woodham cross and, similarly, Rachel Rowe just missing a header, this time from a Deanne Rose left-foot cross.
The Reading defence was also called into action, Grace Moloney making a great one-handed save from a looping Chloe Kelly shot and Gemma Evans blocking a great long-range strike from Khadija Shaw.
Kelly Chambers used her limited substitutes bench during the second half. Sanne Troelsgaard came on for Justine Vanhaevermaet, Tia Primmer joining the field for Amalie Eikeland and Rachel Rowe was replaced by Chloe Peplow. In the meantime, Manchester City had the luxury of five substitutions, including Ellen White who scored City’s third goal, with a header from a corner in the 85th minute.
In a disappointing end to the match, Lily Woodham brought down substitute Hayley Raso, to concede a penalty in the 93rd minute - receiving a yellow card in the process. It was Manchester City centre back Alex Greenwood that stepped up to send Grace Moloney the wrong way, placing her left-foot penalty nicely in the corner. With seconds remaining, Royals substitute Tia Primmer also found herself on the referee's yellow-card list after a foul in midfield.
With Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City taking the top three positions, this defeat leaves the Royals in eighth place. It’s been a season split into three different periods of performances and it will be interesting to know the mood of the Reading FC camp. With just one more win and three more points, the Royals would have finished in sixth place and ahead of both Brighton and Hove Albion and West Ham United.
Hopefully, Kelly Chambers will find herself with less wholesale changes, certainly compared to last season, and she can look to strengthening and rebuilding ready and refreshed for the 2022/2023 season. It again won’t be easy for the Royals and the management team, next season finding themselves the only team with owners not enjoying Premier League men’s football. I can only assume the correlation means more funding and support for those teams associated in whatever degree, no matter how minor, with the exorbitant and ridiculous Premier League and, of course, joined by a returning revigorated and expectant Liverpool team, replacing Birmingham City.
Thank you for your WSL support, enjoy your summer Reading FC break and let’s hope England’s Women can ‘bring football home’ in the Euros in July.