A late strike by Southampton substitute Lexi Lloyd-Smith meant a second defeat for the Royals in the League/Conti Cup at the EBB Stadium last night.
Away from the pressures of the Championship, Reading manager Liam Gilbert used this as an opportunity to utilise and rotate his young squad, making eight changes from the match away to Birmingham City on Sunday (seven on the substitutes bench and Lily Woodham sensibly rested after her injury over the weekend).
This meant first starts for summer signings goalkeeper Rose Kite (22, who followed Gilbert in joining from Oxford United) and Georgia Wilson (21, ex-Bristol City and Danish side AaB Kvinder), as well as an opportunity for players such as Caitlin Smith (20, from US side Clemson Tigers), Lulu Jarvis (19, on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion) and academy player Freya Meadows Tuson.
Team 4-2-3-1: Kite (GK), Houssein, Smith, Hendrix (Captain) (68, Primmer), Mayi Kith (45, Gregory), Meadows Tuson, Wilson (45, Estcourt), Elwood (84, Wade), Jarvis (90+2, Cooper), Longhurst, Troelsgaard
Unused subs: Orman (GK), Annets (GK), Dugdale
Yellow cards: Gregory, 61
The Continental Cup is a league format with four additional teams. The Royals find themselves in a tough group including WSL sides Tottenham Hotspur (their first Conti Cup match resulted in a 6-0 defeat), newly promoted Bristol City, and Arsenal (after their shock European exit and defeat to Paris FC), as well as last night’s opponents Southampton, who currently sit second in the Championship.
In a similar, and disappointing, vein to Sunday, it was another performance where the Royals suffered a slow first 45 minutes, struggled to get into the match and failed to land a strike (or any shot to speak of) on target - with the Southampton goalkeeper, Beth Howard, largely a spectator.
At the other end of the pitch, Kite was busier and called into action several times. The Royals’ ‘keeper will at least be pleased with her performance, pulling off some good saves, quick reactions and confident handling under constant pressure from the visitors’ forages into her penalty area.
In a goalless first half it was Southampton that looked threatening on the break, winning five corners (compared to none for Reading). On 20 minutes a quickly taken free-kick from the Saints nearly caught out Reading (when Gilbert was in the middle of shouting defensive instructions to Easther Mayi Kith), but luckily the shot was fired high and over the crossbar. Minutes later another Southampton left-foot strike flashed across the Reading penalty area and wide of the outstretched Kite and goal.
Gilbert made two changes at half-time with Freya Gregory replacing Mayi-Kith at left back and a straight swap with Charlie Estcourt on for Georgia Wilson.
In the opening 10 minutes of the restart Southampton came close, firstly with a snatched half-volley wide of the Reading goal. This was followed by a good run by Saints’ Emily Kraft, seeing her effort eventually cleared off the goal line by a great bit of last-ditch defending by Mayi Kith for a corner.
After the initial scares, the Royals started to settle and it was (again) a much better battling performance in the second half. On the hour mark, Sanne Troelsgaard’s low drive was comfortably saved by the Saints’ goalkeeper after Amelia Elwood had won the ball in midfield. And shortly after, Reading came closest to scoring when Jarvis cut in from the right to unleash a powerful shot that looked destined to bend into the far side of the goal, only to see Saints goalkeeper Howard at full strength to tip Jarvis’ effort around the post.
Reading made further changes during the second half with Tia Primmer introduced for team captain Brooke Hendrix, so Troelsgaard once again changed position to take up the centre-back duties. Lauren Wade also came on for Elwood and, in time added on, Jarvis was replaced with centre-back Deanna Cooper (who played the last five minutes as a centre-forward in a desperate last-gasp change of formation to try and get something out of the match).
As the match looked like it was heading to extra-time (with some fans checking out the possibility for later trains home), Southampton substitute Lloyd-Smith powerfully finished from the edge of the Reading area, her shot flying past Kite, who could do nothing about this well executed shot. 1-0.
A second defeat in the Conti Cup, with the Royals currently bottom of their small league. Although it’s only the Conti Cup (and we’re unlikely to win it…) the more worrying aspect is that this is now Reading’s fifth defeat on the bounce and a trend that the management, squad and fans will want to see turned around quickly.
That’ll hopefully start with the midday match this Sunday, at the SCL, against Watford - who are currently in the relegation zone, second from bottom. See you there!