Reading paid the price after a slow and disappointing start to the match on Sunday with a first-half brace from Birmingham City’s Charlie Devlin enough to secure all three points, and a 2-1 victory, despite a second-half rally and goal from Deanna Cooper.
It was a return to action after the international break - with eight players called up for duty - and a missed chance to bounce back after the defeats to Sunderland and Sheffield United. Maybe this was a contributory factor (I’m guessing Liam Gilbert won’t use this as an excuse), but the team never really got into gear and lacked a spark and energy throughout the first 45 minutes.
The Reading manager made one change, with the experienced Cooper returning to the starting line-up (her first start since the Durham away victory on October 1), while Halle Houssein dropped to the substitutes bench.
The Royals appear to play a 4-2-3-1 attacking formation - but with Gilbert struggling to find a solution for who should play in that number nine role (Reading have scored nine goals in nine league matches from six different players). Today, it was the turn of another experienced player, Sanne Troelsgaard, who was given the responsibility (initially, anyway, dropping back into defensive midfield later).
Team 4-2-3-1: Orman (GK), Dugdale (Jarvis 90+2),Cooper, Primmer, Wade, Hendrix, Mayi Kith (Elwood,84), Estcourt, Gregory, Woodham (Captain) (Longhurst, 73), Troelsgaard
Unused subs: Annets (GK), Kite (GK), Houssein, Smith, Meadows Tuson, Wilson
The first half was pretty much all Birmingham, with the Royals failing to register a shot on target. Emily Orman denied the Bluenoses (a new one to me…) the chance for early celebration by tipping a good effort onto the crossbar on 12 minutes after some sloppy play out of defence. Talking of celebrations, it wasn’t the result that Orman wanted for her 21st birthday yesterday but she hopefully got to enjoy this a bit later in the evening.
It was the two first-half goals from Birmingham’s Devlin which ultimately decided the match. The opening goal came on the half-hour mark, when she was allowed to dance into the penalty area and curl a sublime left-foot shot around Lily Woodham and Orman into the far side of the net. It was superb technique and execution but she was simply allowed too much time. 1-0.
Just six minutes later, Devlin was quickest to react from a Birmingham City corner, and she drilled her shot hard and low into the bottom corner of the Reading goal for 2-0.
As a reflection of the match, Reading’s first corner wasn’t until the 37th minute and Gilbert took the opportunity to reshuffle the team, moving Troelsgaard back to join Cooper in the defensive-midfield pairing, Charlie Estcourt moved up one and Tia Primmer again was asked to play in the centre-forward role.
Whatever was said at half-time worked (to a degree anyway), in that it was a much-improved (albeit from a low benchmark) second-half performance and effort, with the energy levels and movement looking like those of a completely different team. The second half was dominated by the Royals who, unfortunately, just couldn’t find enough to grab the equaliser or winning goals.
Estcourt set the scene with an early long-range effort before Cooper gave the small amount of travelling Reading fans some hope with a goal from a Woodham corner on 53 minutes, finishing from close range in a crowded penalty area.
It was on the back of some early pressure and from the second consecutive corner kick. The first set piece was the second time this season we got to see the highly unusual positioning where nearly all the Reading players congregate behind the goal at the back post, barely on the pitch, and all rush into the penalty area as the ball is crossed. Bizarre, something different I guess, but it hasn’t worked yet…
Birmingham were struggling to deal with the reinvigorated Reading energy and Primmer and Lauren Wade were both unlucky not to grab the equaliser after pouncing on defensive errors by the home team.
Although not showing on any stats I can find, on 70 minutes the referee gave a yellow card to either Primmer (for the foul) or Freya Gregory (for dissent) and a late yellow card (90+4) for Troelsgaard.
Both teams made substitutions and Birmingham did hit the crossbar after Cooper had lost the ball in midfield. Reading manager Gilbert had to gamble and stretch the game - including with one forced substitution after an injury to Woodham - introducing Josie Longhurst, Lulu Jarvis and Amelia Elwood to push for the equaliser.
As the match drew to an end, with the raining pouring down, in timely fashion for the exit, it felt like it was right to remind ourselves that, although this was a disappointing result (and first-half performance), which now sees the Royals third from bottom and just out of the relegation zone, the Women’s team aren’t immune to the ongoing turmoil at the club.
Underfunding in the WSL, for many seasons, led to the inevitable relegation to the Championship, the stepping-down of Kelly Chambers and the move to part-time employment. The effect meant a required overhaul and rebuilding of a squad and management team - and a squad which have only been together for three months. Keep the faith: it’s still early days, with signs of hope and who knows what the future holds? Hopefully new owners soon!
The next league match is at the SCL Stadium, this Sunday November 12, midday kick-off. Before then we’re back in Conti Cup action on Wednesday November 8, 7pm kick-off, against Southampton, but with the game played at the EBB Stadium (Aldershot), See you there!