Madison Perry’s first goal of the season (and first Royals goal for 2024) wasn’t enough for Reading Women who crashed out of the FA Cup today, losing 1-2 to a very impressive Wolverhampton Wanderers team at The EBB Stadium.
Since the transfer window opened Liam Gilbert has lost four players available to him: Freya Gregory (recalled by parent club Aston Villa), goalkeeper Rose Kite (by mutual agreement), academy graduate Freya Meadows Tuson (who joined Maidenhead but has also remained eligible to represent Reading’s under-21s in the County Cup) and the experienced Sanne Troelsgaard (another mutual agreement).
Into the squad came Mae Hunt (promoted from the academy pathway) and Jesse Woolley (on loan from WSL side Bristol City until the end of the season). Although both of the new additions were named on the substitutes bench today, there were only six reserves in total, with noticeable names missing, including Lily Woodham, Deanna Cooper, Lulu Jarvis and goalkeeper Jacqueline Burns (progressing from a long-term injury).
Reading (4-1-2-3): Orman (GK), Dugdale, Hendrix (captain), Smith, Mayi Kith (Woolley, 61), Houssein (Longhurst, 79), Primmer, Estcourt, Perry, Wellings, Wade
Unused subs: Annets (GK), Hunt, Kennedy, Poile
Yellow cards: None for Reading, two for Wolves: Fergusson, 56 and Will, 64
Although Reading led 1-0 at half-time, the goal was very much against the run of play in a first half dominated by the visitors. It was a super finish from Perry, swift and alert, beating Wolves goalkeeper Shan Turner on 35 minutes to pass the ball into the empty net.
Reading had kicked off first but struggled to get going and very much looked like a team that hadn’t played together for a month. The Royals’ passing and decision-making were slow and sloppy, inviting pressure from the third-tier National League (North) opposition who quickly imposed themselves on the match.
Luckily for Reading, Wolves lacked the cutting edge and clinical finish, otherwise the match may have been over by half-time. In the opening quarter of an hour Wolves saw two early efforts from Beth Merrick and Olivia Fergusson go wide and another chance squandered by Amber Hughes, with her shot aimed straight at Emily Orman from a great position.
Reading’s first shot of the match came in the 22 minute, when Perry chested down to Tia Primmer; her shot flying over the crossbar.
A minute later there was more sloppy play from Reading, with captain Brooke Hendrix caught in possession, losing the ball on the edge of the penalty area, but Wolves striker Hughes was unable to capitalise on the error.
Reading somehow made it to the break with a narrow lead as they continued to ride their luck. Wolves missed chance after chance, Ferguson put her header wide of the goal, Ellie Wilson glanced a precision free-kick wide too, and another Hughes effort lacked power after more carelessness, this time from Reading goalkeeper Orman.
The second half didn’t get any better with Wolves again quick out of the starting blocks, coming close with Charlie Estcourt clearing her lines from near enough the goal line.
In the 54th minute, Lauren Wade was able to control a half-volley effort, which sailed over the crossbar, after some good work by Charlie Wellings setting her up with the half-chance.
Reading’s first substitution came in the 61st minute, when Easther Mayi-Kith had to leave the field injured, unable to continue after a foul and hard tackle by Wolves’ number 19, Ferguson, who also picked up a yellow card for the incident. Mayi-Kith was replaced by new loanee Woolley, who initially took up the left-wing position - meaning Wade went to left-back.
To be fair to the visitors, they never gave up and their pressure finally paid off with a superb finish from Merrick, who opened her body to curl a right-foot shot past Orman and into the corner of the Reading goal. 1-1 with 18 minutes remaining.
Gilbert made another change: Halle Houssein replaced by Katie Longhurst, who took up the revolving left-wing position, with Woolley moving into an attacking-midfield role.
With six minutes remaining, Perry had another opportunity to double her (and the Royals’) tally, dancing into the Wolves penalty area, but her finish was soft and lacked power.
With Reading fans checking their phones to see if the match went to extra-time… Wolves first smashed a shot against the Royals’ crossbar and then quickly rendered the information irrelevant with Destiney Toussaint heading in a cross from Ellie Wilson at the back post to put them through to the fifth round.
Final score: 1-2
This was the first time the two teams had met and, although Wolves are in the third tier of women’s football, it was a thoroughly deserved win, with the official stats showing the visitors dominant in every area: 20 shots (eight for the Royals), seven corners (zero for Reading) and 59% possession.
Wolves are currently fourth in their league, with Newcastle the favourites to get promoted. This was another reminder of how difficult it continues to be for the Royals to compete with these sides, and many other tier-three and Championship teams, especially under the current (lack of) stewardship of the current owners.
The next match, on Sunday January 21 (1pm kick-off), is back at the proper home - the SCL Stadium - against Championship league leaders Birmingham City. So no pressure Liam! See you there.