Reading will have no complaints after being outplayed and outclassed in a 4-0 defeat away to Arsenal - at Borehamwood - with goals from Kim Little, Frida Maanum, Leah Williamson and an own goal from Royals Captain Emma Mukandi.
After their cup-winning display last week, it was probably not a surprise that the Royals found themselves up against a buoyant and confident Arsenal team that are challenging to get themselves back into the title race.
Kelly Chambers, after last week’s victory against West Ham United, rewarded her players by making no changes to the starting line-up, with Rachel Rowe making her 150th start for the Royals. Lily Woodham and Becky Jane were both back on the substitutes bench after being absent last weekend.
Team: Moloney, Bryson, Kith, Evans, Mukandi, Vanhaevermaet (Troelsgaard 58) Moore, Eikeland, Wellings, Rowe, Harries (Woodham 58)
Unused subs: Burns (GK), Hendrix, Caldwell, Meadows-Tuson, Wade, Jane
Reading got off to the worst possible start, conceding after just four minutes to a Kim Little penalty. With Arsenal streaming forward, Reading centre-back Easther Mayi Kith found herself struggling to keep up with Katie McCabe and was ajudged to have clipped the Arsenal winger as she broke into the Royals’ penalty area.
Grace Moloney will, no doubt, be disappointed after diving the right way and getting a glove to the spot kick, but just unable to prevent it from hitting the back of the net for an early Arsenal 1-0 lead.
It was pretty much one-way red and white traffic for the opening 45 minutes with the home side threatening to score on nearly every attack forward. The Reading defence didn’t know how to stop the Arsenal flanks and crosses were raining in from both sides, with Katie McCabe particularly causing no end of problems for Faye Bryson at right-back.
Grace Moloney knew early on that she was in for a busy night, finding herself in the thick of the action plenty of times - with many attempts from the Arsenal forward line - some shots comfortably saved, others flashing past her post and a great reaction save from England captain Leah Williamson’s left-foot shot after a great cut-back by Arsenal’s left back Noelle Maritz.
Just when it looked like the Royals might just make it to half-time and give themselves a fighting chance to regroup and go again in the second half, they conceded their second goal of the match with just one minute of time remaining. In what was a theme of the first half it was another cross, this time from the right bypassing Easther Mayi Kith for an easy back-post finish for the Arsenal centre forward Frida Maanum to make it 2-0.
Although unlucky for the Royals, it wasn’t undeserved, with Arsenal dominating the first half. The stats showed 14 attempts on goal and five corners and, in reply, zero shots and corners from the team in blue and white hoops.
It, albeit very briefly, looked like Reading might start the second half brightly, with Reading’s first shot of the match coming from Rachel Rowe in the opening touches after kick-off.
Any hope of a Royals comeback was however extinguished just as quickly when Emma Mukandi turned the ball into her own net - just two minutes into the restart. Leah Williamson, charging forward from midfield, found Frida Maanum in space on the left and her cross was turned in by the lunging Reading captain trying to stop the ball reaching Caitlin Foord at the back post - who probably would have tapped it in otherwise. 3-0.
Kelly Chambers, on 58 minutes, in an attempt to change the flow of the game, made a double substitution with Justine Vanhaevermaet and Emma Harries leaving the field of play and being replaced by Lily Woodham and Sanne Troelsgaard.
Arsenal had similar thoughts, also with a double substitution, but this time to presumably rest, reset and freshen up a team already in complete control. It worked and shortly after this change they extended the lead further with a Leah Williamson goal capping off a fine performance from her. Williamson reacted the quickest - after another great bit of goalkeeping from Grace Moloney - to slot home at the back post and cement the 4-0 victory.
The second-half stats unfortunately continued where the first half left off and eventually finished with 26 shots (with 15 on target) for the home side. If there were any cheer and sign of improvement it came from Rachel Rowe who earned all of Reading’s three shots (but none on target). To be fair, Rowe was unlucky with her trademark bit of individual skill seeing her turn and unleash a shot that clipped the top of the crossbar and another effort just wide of the near post.
With the potential for goal difference being a factor in the run into the end of the season - and relegation battle - the Royals had player of the match Grace Moloney to thank for keeping the scoreline respectable - with a string of fine saves and some quick thinking to smother what was a deluge of Arsenal attacks on the Reading goal.
Leicester grabbing an important point this afternoon (away to Everton) means the pressure continues for Kelly Chambers and the Reading team. Add to that the fact that Brighton and Hove Albion have two games in hand and there’s the midweek fixture between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester, and it makes the run-in all very exciting (if that’s the right word to use?) indeed!
Reading at least have another break from the WSL next weekend - with the small matter of trying to see off WSL league leaders Chelsea in the WFA Cup quarter-final on Sunday - see you there!