Reading will officially be playing Championship football next season after a 0-3 defeat against Chelsea meant they have lost their WSL league position, which they had enjoyed since 2015.
The Royals sensibly chose to get their celebrations out of the way early. Firstly, a presentation to Amalie Eikeland, reaching 100 appearances for the blue and white hoops (away to Tottenham Hotspur last weekend), and just before kick-off both teams formed a guard of honour for Kelly Chambers in recognition of her 20+ year commitment, work and support for Reading - with a career spanning from player to manager, coach and probably much more than that.
There will, I’m sure, be many fans who thought this was unusual, to say the least, when 90 minutes later they would be leaving the stadium having watched a team slide into relegation without putting up much of a struggle.
It looks very likely that this Chelsea match is to be Chambers’ swan song and, unfortunately, it ended in similar style - defeat - to 17 other WSL matches this season. Reading have only won three matches and drawn two (all points earned at the SCL Stadium) and, in the end, finished five points adrift from safety - with Leicester winning 1-0 away to Brighton and Hove Albion.
It was always going to be a tough ask this afternoon, with Chelsea having the additional incentive (if they needed one), knowing that a win would secure their fourth consecutive WSL title as champions.
Chambers, perhaps not unsurprisingly, elected to go with a defensive starting XI with Brooke Hendrix joining a back five. If there was a surprise, it came in the form of the Reading manager choosing to start Emma Harries and Deanne Rose, meaning there was no place for the consistent Sanne Troelsgaard, who found herself on the substitutes bench along with Lauren Wade and Charlie Wellings.
Team: Moloney, Mukandi, Mayi Kith, Cooper, Evans, Hendrix (Troelsgaard, 79), Moore (Primmer, 79),Vanhaevermaet, Eikeland, Harries (Wellings, 63), Rose (Perry,33)
Unused subs: Poulter (GK), Caldwell, Wade, Alexander
Even with a defensive line-up and only Deanne Rose up front, Chelsea controlled the match from the start and could have scored in the opening 15 minutes. Sam Kerr somehow blazed a close-range effort over the Reading goal and Grace Moloney pulled off a great save to tip a rebounding shot onto her crossbar before it was cleared away to safety.
Kerr didn’t need too many attempts though, and on 18 minutes she scored her first of two, heading in a Guro Reiten cross from the right. 0-1.
Within just three minutes Justine Vanhaevermaet missed a great opportunity to equalise, heading over the Chelsea crossbar, after a great left-foot cross from Royals captain Emma Mukandi.
The risk to start Deanne Rose, returning from a long spell of injury, didn’t pay off and she unfortunately had to be substituted after only 33 minutes. Chambers chose to give the inexperienced Madison Perry a chance to lead the line and it was a fantastic opportunity for the young player - Chambers overlooking the more experienced players available to her.
Chelsea doubled their lead just before half-time with another familiar individual error gifted by the Reading defence, this time from Easther Mayi Kith, who up until then had competed well. Poor control gave Chelsea’s Reiten the opportunity to pounce on the ball and leave Mayi Kith in her wake to finish nicely past Moloney for 0-2.
The second half had an air of predictability with Chelsea seeing the match out. We haven’t seen a great deal of good passing football from the Royals this season, but there was one great move to remind us what they could have been capable of when Mayi Kith and Jade Moore combined to feed Madison Perry to cross from the right. However, Vanhaevermaet was unable to get a head on the end of it.
Chelsea sealed off a comfortable win with a second goal from Kerr. Her shot beat the Reading goalkeeper, only to hit the post, but Kerr was on hand to meet the rebound and finish what she started. 0-3.
Cue a tannoy announcement to fans to say “don’t run on the pitch at the final whistle” and -with two minutes of normal time remaining - “congratulations to Chelsea FC on becoming Champions of the WSL!”
The referee appeared to have concluded the same and only added one minute - ignoring the time for the three Hendrix injuries and eight substitutions in the second half.
With both the men’s and the women’s senior football teams relegated in the same season (a new unwanted record?) the owners and management have a school report you wouldn’t want anyone to read. Let’s hope for better structure and financing - and better times to look forward to next season.
I left the stadium to let the many, many Chelsea fans enjoy their celebrations while I reflect on what Championship football may bring, apart from a long trip to Durham!
Enjoy the summer break and let’s do it all again (only better this time) next season. See you there.