Prior to kick-off, Kelly Chambers was quoted as saying “the next two weeks define our season”. After this afternoon’s 5-0 demolition by Aston Villa, Reading are now left with just two matches to save their season, and in all reality, a miracle and six points are needed.
Today was another occasion to catch sight of the Royals this weekend and the fans, along with the sunshine weather, took the opportunity to turn up in force with, apparently, a record home crowd for the season (no attendance given at time of writing…).
Team: Moloney, Eikeland, Mayi Kith (Woodham, 45), Caldwell (Hendrix, 67), Mukandi, Harries, Moore (Primmer, 56) Vanhaevermaet (Perry, 67), Wellings (Wade, 56), Rowe, Troelsgaard
Unused substitutes: Poulter (GK), Bryson, Evans, Alexander
The last two matches (against Everton and Manchester City) have seen Reading take the lead, only to dash early hopes and throw it away later during the match. Today saw no repeat of this and after Aston Villa took an early lead, the visitors simply outplayed and outclassed the home team - looking leagues apart, which of course they may be at the start of next season.
It’s fair to say Reading didn’t help themselves today with some really poor defending - but how many times have we said that this season?
Rachel Daly, on her way to her hat-trick, opened the scoring for the visitors on 14 minutes, in a move that started with the goalkeeper and was finished far too easily by her - unmarked - after a cross from the Villa left by Kirsty Hanson. 0-1.
Reading’s best chance of the match came just two minutes later when Justine Vanhaevermaet’s pass found Sanne Troelsgaard and her shot, from a tight angle, hit the near post, and rebounded across the goal and cleared to safety.
Although Reading had some possession they didn’t test Hannah Hampton in the Aston Villa goal after this attempt, and it was the visitors in control and threatening on the attack.
It took Villa until the 41st minute to double the scoreline when the Royals were caught on the counter-attack. This time Daly provided the assist, again from the left-hand side, to square the ball for a chance that Alisha Lehmann wasn’t going to miss. 0-2.
With Reading fans, team and management hoping for half-time, Carla Ward’s Aston Villa team had other ideas and clearly wanted to finish off the match before the break. The sigh of relief didn’t last long after Daly’s effort flew over the crossbar, striking the ball from a Grace Moloney punched free-kick clearance.
Easther Mayi Kith dithered too long with her decision (not for the first time) and was robbed by Daly who, from the right this time, crossed to Hanson to finish from close range. 0-3 and a soul-destroying way to end the half.
Chambers brought on Lily Woodham during the break at left-back, replacing Mayi Kith and moving Emma Mukandi into the vacant centre-back position.
Just after the restart Jade Moore picked up the Royals’ second yellow card of the match, Vanhaevermaet picking up a yellow in the first half - after a poor touch saw her lose a good opportunity for a rare Reading break.
Daly added her second, on 55 minutes, with a clinical finish from Kenza Dali’s neat play and cut-back. 0-4.
Chambers attempted to change things with a double substitution: Tia Primmer and Lauren Wade replaced Charlie Wellings and the heavily strapped Jade Moore.
Daly completed her second hat-trick of the season against the Royals (although I still claim it was an own goal by Diane Caldwell at Villa Park…) with another perfectly executed goal, from ex-Royal Maz Pacheco’s through ball. 0-5.
Reading used all five substitutions - Vanhaevermaet (through injury) and Caldwell the final changes for Brooke Hendrix and Madison Perry (making only her second home appearance).
Ward also made four changes to the Aston Villa team - including the return of ex-Royal Remi Allen, after her ACL injury last year - and, mercifully, Reading didn’t concede any more in the remaining 30 minutes of the match.
If the men’s team have failed to bail out enough water to avoid the route to relegation, it’s probably fair to say the women’s team have simply been left alone to sink - with no buckets provided.
There will probably be many people pointing the finger at Chambers - and criticism is rightly expected - but I can’t help thinking that she (and her limited resources) have been left alone to deal with pretty much everything - while time, effort, decisions and resources were centered on the failed Championship survival project. Ironically, it will now be the women’s team that find themselves in the Championship next season.
The result means Reading are still two points behind Leicester (who have a game in hand), three points from Spurs (beaten by Manchester United today) and five adrift from Brighton.
If the miracle is to come, it starts away to Spurs on Saturday May 20, with a rearranged 4.15pm kick-off, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium - following on from the men’s 12.30pm kick-off versus Brentford in the Premier League.
It finishes with a home game against Chelsea - at 2.30pm on Saturday May 27 - and the chance of dashing Chelsea’s hopes of becoming WSL champions this season in the process. See you there!