The Royals were made to pay the price after individual errors cost them dearly, losing 1-3 at the SCL against Sheffield United, with goals from Ashley Hodson, Isobel Goodwin and Charlotte Newsham and another late Reading consolation from Tia Primmer.
Liam Gilbert chose to start with the same team and formation from last weekend’s defeat away at Sunderland. Reading have arguably been without a recognised number nine and leading goalscorer for a few seasons now and this year is no different.
Primmer was largely given the responsibility of leading the attack, although the front four is generally a fluid and changeable formation - with Lauren Wade and Freya Gregory cutting in from the wings and Charlie Estourt supporting Primmer up top.
Team 4-2-3-1: Orman (GK), Dugdale, Houssein (Longhurst, 60), Primmer, Wade, Hendrix (Cooper, 59), Mayi Kith, Estcourt, Gregory, Woodham (Captain), Troelsgaard
Unused subs: Annets (GK), Smith, Meadows Tuson, Jarvis, Elwood
Yellow cards: Primmer, Woodham
It was a short back-pass, and uncharacteristic error, from captain Lily Woodham, just after the half-hour mark, that changed the match and put the Royals on the back foot. Her loose pass was intercepted by Hodson who rounded the Royals’ goalkeeper, Emily Orman, to finish from an angle with Easther Mayi Kith unable to race back in time. 0-1 to the visitors.
Up until then, Reading had looked comfortable on the ball, were growing in confidence and were starting to trouble the visitors with some good passing and movement behind the United defence but without the cutting edge and clinical finish required.
There wasn’t much to trouble either goalkeeper in the opening half with Sheffield United’s goalkeeper arguably the busier. Gregory had the first real effort, after only 10 minutes: her left-foot strike was bravely defended and headed over for a Reading corner.
Within two minutes, Sheffield United were unlucky not to break the deadlock after Tara Bourne’s free-kick rebounded off the angle of the post and crossbar with the Reading goalkeeper a rooted and relieved observer.
In reply, Sanne Troelsgaard had a decent long-range effort, her 20-yard strike from the edge of the Sheffield United penalty area rising and flying just high of the crossbar.
A couple of good moves from the Royals created two chances for Wade. The first saw Woodham and Halle Houssein combine to set up a volleyed effort from Wade which Frances Stenson, in the United goal, tipped over with a one-handed save. For the second, Woodham combined with Wade with another volleyed attempt, in a more central position but again thwarted by the Blades goalkeeper.
Similar to last weekend, the goal conceded in the first half appeared to unsettle the Royals, who struggled mentally to get back into the match during the second half.
Within three minutes of the restart Sheffield United doubled their lead. Mayi Kith appeared to lose her footing and was robbed by Isobel Goodwin who strode away and finished coolly past the Reading goalkeeper for a 0-2 scoreline.
On 54 minutes, a left-footed free-kick from Woodham somehow narrowly escaped four Reading strikers straining to get on the end of what was a rare good set-piece delivery from the home team.
On the hour mark, Gilbert named the only two substitutions with Houssein and Brooke Hendrix replaced by Deanna Cooper (central defence) and Josie Longhurst (centre-forward), with Primmer dropping back into midfield.
Shortly after, Rachel Dugdale got onto the end of a Gregory cross but saw her attempt saved by the United goalkeeper.
The final blow came in the 72nd minute when Mayi Kith didn’t deal with a delivery to the back post and the squared cross was met by Charlotte Newsham for an easy tap-in and 0-3 scoreline.
Reading manager Gilbert changed to a 3-1-4-2 formation in a late and desperate attempt to salvage something from the match, with Troelsgaard joining Longhurst in the attack.
Longhurst was unlucky after a great move involving Cooper and Troelsgaard was again saved by Stenson, resilient in the United goal.
Reading continued to search for a reply with Gregory, on the stroke of normal time, beating the United defence and goalkeeper, but her good work and cross from the left was not matched by a Reading striker being on the end of it.
With seven minutes of time added on, the Royals did get a late consolation goal after a good move and shot from Troelsgaard was parried by the Sheffield United goalkeeper, but this time only as far as Primmer, who tapped the ball home to ruin the visitors’ clean sheet for 1-3.
There’s clearly more work to do on the training ground, particularly with regards to the lack of quality from set pieces. Similar to recent weeks, Reading have earned themselves a decent amount of corners and free-kicks and largely wasted these valuable opportunities with a lack of quality or innovation.
There’s also question marks over the mental toughness and bouncebackability required, with the Royals again seemingly unable to shake off the goal conceded.
It’s a result which leaves the Royals at the wrong end of the table, in ninth position, with nine points, above Lewes, Watford and London City Lionesses.
There’s time for the Royals to regroup with the next Championship match not until Bonfire Night, away to Birmingham City (2pm kick-off). It is, however, another international break, meaning Gilbert will lose time with some of the Royals squad off to represent their countries (mainly to Wales!) with a well earned England under-23 call-up for on-loan forward Gregory.
See you there!