Kelly Chambers’ team, if they were not already, now find themselves in real relegation danger after throwing away an early two-goal lead to lose 3-2 to Everton at the SCL stadium this afternoon.
In what had turned out to be a truly demoralising weekend for fans of Reading Football Club, the Royals now find themselves just one point ahead of bottom-placed Leicester - who have a game in hand.
It started all so well, with Reading kicking off and winning a penalty in the opening seconds when Charlie Wellings’ turn in the penalty area saw the Everton defender clip her leg and an easy decision for the referee. Up stepped Justine Vanhaevermaet to side-foot into the bottom-right-hand corner, sending the Everton goalkeeper the wrong way and Reading into a 1-0 lead.
Before the match you felt that the Royals needed to be brave today and Kelly Chambers certainly set up her team in a very attacking, pressing and aggressive formation.
From kick-off the Royals were on the front foot in what at times was a 4-2-4 formation, with Wellings, Harries, Troelsgaard and Primmer all charging forward, with Vanhaevermaet and Rowe not far behind. Chambers also started with a flat back four - with Amalie Eikeland surprisingly starting at right back (with Faye Bryson as a substitute).
Team: Moloney, Mayi Kith (Hendrix, 73) Caldwell, Mukandi, Eikeland, Vanhaevermaet, Rowe, Harries, Primmer (Bryson, 60), Troelsgaard (Perry, 86), Wellings
Unused substitutes: Poulter (GK), Evans, Wade, Jane, Alexander
The bold tactics and pressure appeared to be working and Reading were rewarded for their efforts after a great bit of skill from Sanne Troelsgaard, with a back-heel turn to pass to Justine Vanhaevermaet, who passed the ball into the bottom corner with a cool left-foot finish from close range and a 2-0 lead.
As the sun tried to break through the mood in the stadium was buoyant, with the thought of the points gap to Leicester, Spurs losing at home to Aston Villa and Brighton in a tricky away match to Liverpool.
But “it’s the hope that kills you” (or the lack of hope as Ted Lasso said recently). Just after the half-hour mark Everton, on a counter attack, had Lucy Hope striding down the left wing and she passed the ball to Hanna Bennison, who finished coolly to slot the ball past a helpless Grace Moloney. 2-1 and a big team talk was required to settle the team and recapture that early spirit and hope that the side had shown in the opening 20-30 minutes.
The mobile phone test alarm sirens - ringing out around the stadium, just before the start of the second half - turned out to be a warning sign of the danger to come in the second half. The bold approach with which Reading started the game had disappeared and Everton dominated the opening 15 minutes of the second period, with some nervous and sloppy defending from the home team.
It, unfortunately, wasn’t a surprise when Everton pulled level in the 61st minute. Everton’s petite and skilful midfielder Jessica Park was brought down by Diane Caldwell to concede a penalty. Katja Snoeijis took responsibility for the spot-kick and finished with an almost identical penalty to Vanhaevermaet’s. 2-2.
The hope, or lack of hope, was almost palpable, and it felt like Everton might just grab another. Kelly Chambers made some unusual substitutions, first replacing Tia Primmer with Faye Bryson - but playing the right-back on the left wing. The Reading manager appeared to change the formation to three centre backs and a pair of wing-backs, replacing Mayi Kith with Brooke Hendrix - presumably to add a bit more strength to the defence?
With seven minutes of normal time remaining, Everton, inevitably, scored to dash Reading’s hopes further. Nicoline Sorensen surged down the visitors’ right wing, cut onto her left and curled a shot past Grace Moloney and into the bottom corner. 2-3 to the visitors.
It was a cruel blow to an afternoon that started with such promise, energy and positivity. Madison Perry was the last of another odd ‘last roll of the dice’ substitution, this time replacing Sanne Troelsgaard (who is surely one of the likeliest players to score a goal?).
Even with 10 minutes of time added on, Reading had one final opportunity, after a free-kick was headed on by Hendrix to Charlie Wellings, whose attempted lob over the stranded Everton goalkeeper was just too high and over the crossbar.
With four matches remaining - Manchester City (A), Aston Villa (H), Tottenham Hotspur (A) and Chelsea (H) - and with Leicester yet to play, it looks a very difficult and anxious end to the season. Fingers crossed, although I think we might need more of a strategy than that!