If a week is a long time in football, whatever the Reading manager and players did during the two-week international break (and the crushing home defeat to Southampton) worked! Not only did the Royals register their first win of the season, it was also their first away league victory since February 6 2022, away to Everton, some 602 days ago - with second-half goals from Freya Gregory and Amelia Elwood.
With a 520-mile round trip, it unfortunately meant there weren’t many Royals fans present among the crowd of 701 to witness what was a super, hard-working team performance, and some outstanding individual performances too.
For those lucky enough to attend, they enjoyed a surprisingly glorious northern blue sky, in a stunning Maiden Castle university stadium complex. Think Palmer Park, complete with running track, only much improved (sorry East Reading) - with the backing of first-class sporting facilities and a cafe club house offered by Durham University. Lucky students too.
Although Durham bizarrely lost 9-1 away to Crystal Palace, it was always going to be a tough ask for the Royals, with the Wildcats unbeaten in their two opening home matches of the season.
Team: Orman (GK), Dugdale, Cooper, Houssein, Primmer, Wade, Hendrix, Mayi Kith, Gregory (Jarvis, 75), Woodham (Captain), Longhurst (Elwood, 74)
Unused subs: Annets (GK), Smith, Meadows Tuson, Cox
One of this afternoon’s stand-out performances came from Gregory, making her first start of the season. On 19 minutes, she shot from wide on the Reading right-hand side, seeing the angled effort saved at the near post by Durham goalkeeper Naoisha McAloon.
On 35 minutes the Royals should have arguably taken the lead. A good counter-attack, this time down the Royals’ left, saw Josie Longhurst failing to get her side-foot shot on target after an excellent cross by Tia Primmer. A missed opportunity.
At the other end, the Reading defence smothered and easily dealt with most attacks by the home team. With the first half drawing to a close, Emily Orman was called into action twice within a minute. The first shot was saved comfortably into her midriff, from a shot from the edge of box, and quickly after she leapt to tip a long-range shot over the crossbar for a Durham corner that came to nothing.
Although goalless, it was a first half that I’m sure Liam Gilbert would have been pleased with, taking optimism from both the opportunities created (although lacking the same clinical/quality finish) and the much better passing and retention of the ball.
Whether it was the half-time team talk or building on the confidence of the first half, the second 45 minutes produced Reading’s best display of the season to date. The passing was quicker and matched with more energy and better movement throughout the team.
The reward came on 61 minutes after a terrific finish from Gregory: a wonderful left-foot strike across the Durham goalkeeper and into the top corner. It was a really good move all round. Easther Mayi-Kith, with some excellent work, turned defence into attack, then onto Primmer, centrally to Halle Houssain, to find Gregory on the left wing. 0-1 to the Royals.
The Durham manager immediately reacted with a triple substitution and they came close to an equaliser, with captain Becky Salicki heading wide from a Durham corner, just moments later.
It was good to see Primmer back in the starting line-up (after injury), with her usual enthusiasm, energy and effort and, almost inevitably, resulting in Reading’s first yellow card of the afternoon, on 69 minutes. Deanna Cooper picked up the only other card with a cynical foul to stop a home-team attack, with nine minutes of normal time remaining.
The Reading manager made two changes on 75 minutes, giving a well earned rest to both Gregory and Longhurst, with Lulu Jarvis and Amelia Elwood replacing them. Both breathed new life, energy and movement into the Royals’ attacking play.
Just after the six minutes of time added on were displayed, Reading drove forward again, the substitutes rewarding Gilbert’s tactical changes. Jarvis found Elwood, who precisely slotted her right-foot shot from outside of the penalty area into the bottom left-hand corner to seal the 0-2 away (long-time awaited) victory!
A super all-round team performance, effort and energy, with two goals certainly worth a watch. It also feels like an important stepping stone for the season, giving Royals fans extra hope, optimism and something to look forward to - which has been missing for what feels like such a long time.
Let’s hope we can build upon this great work next week, back at the SCL Stadium, against Lewes - with another change in kick-off time, at 1pm. See you there!