Patience is a virtue
As was to be expected, Man City were the team to start on top, crowding the ball from the outset and penning Reading back. The Royals who, although are still hunting their first win of the year, have had a number of credible draws this season and we happy enough to absorb the pressure. City seemed to grow and grow against the WSL 1 newcomers but struggled with their final ball from early on, unable to find the key to unlock the staunch home defence.
Reading, for their part, defended firmly in two banks of four, Rebecca Jane particularly alert throughout to make some perfectly-timed tackles in the box. However the hosts also had an edge going forward, notably on the left through Emma Follis, the tricky no.7 with an early attempt to replicate her fine goal against Notts County last weekend saw the initial effort deflected away from Karen Bardsley’s goal. Unfortunately for the home fans the attacks were sporadic and they were forced to watch their team be pinned in their own half for most of the match.
Whether from the right or the left, with slow and steady build-up or a launched ball from one of the centre-backs, City attacked and they attacked and they attacked. Every player except Bardsley squashed into the Reading half. If Nick Cushing had told his side to be patient they were heeding his words, trying to pass around the defence and staying calm when they were inevitably thwarted.
With just under half an hour gone the visitors started to ramp up the pressure, cutting through the banks with some neat one-touch football as the Royals began to wobble for the first time in the match. The nervous moments didn’t stop then as Mary Earps spilled a Jane Ross shot and Izzy Christiansen was the first to pounce, but with bodies flooding the box, Christiansen couldn’t wiggle the ball through to a teammate.
Still the Citizens attacked in numbers, Demi Stokes charged forward and watched her low drive deflect out for a corner that pinged around until it found Georgia Stanway outside of the box, her lashed effort cannoning off of Nikita Parris for a goal kick.
But like going out with a group of friends on a Friday night the shots didn’t stop and when Christiansen rose highest to get on a Parris cross there was little Earps could do but pick the ball out of her goal.
The goal had been coming from the off, all it took was a momentary lapse in concentration from the hard-working defence and 40 minutes of good work had been undone, however when the two went in at the break the visitors were very much still in the match.
A lack of finish
It didn’t take long for the second-half to ease into the same rhythm as the first, City attacking, Reading dropping. City attacked but they still lacked their edge, their passing more laboured than fluid, the ball into the box hopeful not pinpoint. It didn’t matter who went forward whether it was Lucy Bronze, Jill Scott, Stanway or Parris, they still lacked the sparkle they had last season.
The brightest moment in the second-half was ten minutes after the restart when Stanway picked the ball up on the left and whipped a vicious effort against Earps’ near posts but it just wasn’t enough for the league leaders. A squirming ball in midfield sent Follis on her way, in behind with Steph Houghton and Jennifer Beattie frequently pushed far too high up.
Follis latched onto the ball and began to eat up the ground between herself and Bardsley’s goal, with Bronze chasing her dust the attackers’ eyes must have been lighting up. Seeing the danger Bardsley shot out of her goal and made a fantastic clearance just outside of her box, her split-second advantage on Follis enough to clear the threat. A good half-chance and a reminder that at 1-0 down the hosts were still very much in the contest.
A squirming ball in midfield sent Follis on her way, charging down in behind the defence, Bronze not able to catch up as the attacker fired up the after-burners but Bardsley was quick off her line to power out of the box and get to the ball a split-second before Follis could take it around her. Reading still alive and kicking.
Twenty minutes before time Lauren Bruton was away through the centre and it took substitute Keira Walsh hauling her back with all of her mite to stop the striker, Walsh earned a yellow card for her trouble, Bruton a free kick. The set-piece was a poor one and City reasserted their dominance.
Toni Duggan’s introduction just after was a timely one, and the striker spent her first few minutes inside the City half, keeping the hosts at arm’s length before offering herself higher up the pitch. With less than ten minutes’ left Duggan stamped her authority on the game, following a corner the ball dropped to the striker outside the box and her right-footed volley arrowed plush into the top right corner past a diving Earps.
With tired legs the Royals rallied to mount another charge forward, the referee with no hesitation in pointing to the spot when Follis went down inside of the area after Parris had stuck out a leg. Bruton, who’d been a tireless runner for her team all night stepped up and finished clinically into the bottom left corner.
Spurred on by the goal and with only stoppage time left Reading attacked with all they had left in the tank, tails up, ready to make waves but time was not on their side and City were happy to see the game out.
Positives in defeat and negatives in success
Despite the loss Reading have plenty to be proud of and use for motivation for their next match. It’s not been the easiest twelve days for the Royals as they’ve faced both Birmingham City and Notts County at home before welcoming City, two points from the three matches may not be idea but it shows real progress in the league.
Although forced to defend for much of the game, the hosts did well to stay focused under the onslaught as well as having an outlet on the counter.
For this reporter, City still flatter to deceive. At their best in the second-half of last season they were unplayable, the football was the stuff of dreams but this season something just isn’t quite right. Although the results are still there the performances ask more questions than they answer.
Completely dominant throughout the match, they only managed to put five of their 25 shots on target. Earps did well to claim some dangerous crosses but she wasn’t worked as she could have been. The Citizens are still sitting pretty at the summit of WSL1 but with some big games still to play they could easily come unstuck.