Reading’s opening match in the Barclays Championship ended all square after a late, late equaliser by Crystal Palace in the 90+11th minute - after Deanna Cooper’s second-half goal looked like the Royals might seal a rare away win and a perfect start to the campaign.
In the week (at the fanstore meet-and-greet), new manager Liam Gilbert promised a high-energy, front-footed approach and the Royals certainly lined up in an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation.
New captain Lily Woodham played as part of the three, in an attacking left-sided position, alongside Tia Primmer and Lauren Wade - with Sanne Troelsgaard leading the attack. Deanna Cooper and Charlie Estcourt provided the midfield cover in front of the back four, with license for Estcourt to drive forward and join in the attack when going forward.
The defence consisted of Bethan Roberts (at right-back), Easther Mayi-Kith, Brooke Hendrix (centre-backs), new signing Rachel Dugdale (left-back) and on-loan Chelsea goalkeeper Emily Orman completing the new team look.
Team: Orman (GK), Dugdale, Cooper, Primmer, Wade, Hendrix, Mayi Kith, Estcourt, Woodham (Captain), Roberts, Troelsgaard
Unused subs: Kite, Meadows Tuson, Wilson, Elwood, Kennedy, Cox, Poile, Rasmussen
After a 30-minute delayed kick-off it was the Royals who got off to the better start and created some great opportunities in the opening 15 minutes, hitting the crossbar twice. Wade was the first to strike the woodwork, with a cross/shot, followed by Sanne Troelsgaard whose effort was deflected just minutes later onto crossbar for a corner. The resultant set-piece saw Troelsgaard come close again, but she was just unable to wrap her foot around the ball with her right-footed shot just wide of the post.
Crystal Palace improved as the first half settled down and began to control the midfield. With better possession, it was the home team that started to pile on the pressure, winning a few corners and asking questions of the new-look Reading defence.
Reading’s new number one, Orman, was called into action in the 22nd minute with a good diving right-hand acrobatic save after a long-range effort from Crystal Palace’s number 10, Annabelle Blanchard.
With the first half drawing to a close, it was the Royals who, once again, went close. Two minutes into the five added on, with Wade’s 20-yard effort was tipped over, after some good repositioning by the Eagles’ goalkeeper, Natalia Negri.
With referees applying the new (early season) rules to the letter of the law, it resulted in two bookings (and only Reading bookings) for Estcourt and Wade and a goalless end to the first half.
The restart saw some really good passages of play by Reading. Firstly, Woodham fed Wade in a central position but under pressure from the Palace defenders, and a cross from Troelsgaard was unable to find the unmarked Woodham at the back post. Reading centre-forward Troelsgaard came close again, on 67 minutes, with a fine turn and shot forcing a close-range save by goalkeeper Negri, and no Royals players was able to turn in the loose ball.
Gilbert made one forced substitution, on 76 minutes, with Roberts leaving the field (hopefully ‘just’ cramp?) and Amelia Elwood making her debut appearance for the senior side. The team reshuffled with Mayi-Kith filling in at right-back and Cooper moving to centre-back, where she has played many times.
The Crystal Palace manager, Laura Kaminski (with ex-Reading coach Adam Jeffrey alongside), made three changes in the second half - with her team also picking up four yellow cards.
It looked like Reading may take all three points when Cooper’s right-footed corner looped all the way into the far corner of the goal to make the score 0-1 to the visitors in the 88th minute. Palace goalkeeper Negri, misjudging the flight of the ball, also fell into the post, injuring herself in the process and requiring many minutes of treatment before the match restarted.
Ironically, it was during this time added on (which ended up being a total of 16 minutes) when the home side equalised. The Eagles’ number nine, Elise Hughes, got herself on the end of a cross to head home the equaliser, back across Orman, on 102 minutes.
Although disappointing, it was a match where neither team deserved to win, both lacking a cutting edge and quality up front. A 1-1 away draw early in a new season certainly doesn’t feel like a disastrous start to the campaign - especially with a team that have hardly had any decent pre-season time and a manager that only joined a week ago!
Kelly Chambers and her family - including the new youngest baby Royal (or Utah Royal) - were also watching on and will, I’m sure, have a few words of wisdom and good luck messages to share with the new Reading management team.
Reading’s next match, and opening game at the SCL Stadium, is against Charlton Athletic. It’s at the unusual kick-off time of 5.15pm and unusual day of next Saturday, September 2. See you there!