In our next end of season review we look at the draw specialists of WSL, Reading. Maybe not always the most pulsating of teams, the Royals did what they needed to to secure top flight status for next year, working a foothold in the league to ensure WSL 1 status for as long as possible.
Arsenal, Sunderland, Arsenal, Sunderland...
Stuck in a state of déjà vu, Reading faced both Sunderland and Arsenal three times over their first ten games this year, their cup games far from successful – bar a 2-0 win over Millwall in March – their league form had promise. Four draws from their first six league games the mark of a team that knew how to stay focused throughout 90 minutes, everyone willing to stay regimented for the cause.
Their form after the mid-season break not quite as good as they fell to a second defeat on the bounce away to Liverpool, the Royals with plenty of chances to take something from the game, lacking an edge and a handful of luck. Two more draws against Birmingham and Notts followed before a tailspin of four consecutive losses; defeated by Manchester City, home and away before a narrow defeat at Adams Park against Liverpool before a comprehensive 3-0 loss to Chelsea.
The Royals finally back on track with their first league win of the campaign and their first win in any competition for six months with a definitive win at the Keepmoat to ensure their own league safety. The hosts almost in for a fright when Reading pushed them most of the way in a 3-2 just before Halloween in Staines, the Royals unable to sign off in style, narrowly beaten by the Belles on the last day of the season.
After scoring 61 goals last season – admittedly against much weaker WSL 2 competition – the adjustment to WSL 1 has been a sobering one for the Royals who’ve managed the second lowest goal tally this year; 15. [Although to contextualise, Notts only scored 16, Sunderland 17 and fourth placed Birmingham, 18].
Reading have gone from over-running their opponents and scoring for fun to sitting for large swathes of games, their defensive work well worthy of praise – although having conceded 26 times, but the fans left wanting in attack. Many people wanted to see much more from Reading this term, with their fervent activity in the transfer market before the season started it’s surprising to see them languishing so low in the stats.
Whether not taking their chances when they come or being slow to turn defence into attack, or just lacking the require clinical edge against WSL 1 teams, Reading’s number one priority should be how to get the goals they so desperately need to keep themselves in the top flight.
Always look on the bright side
Perhaps this review is being too harsh on the team who have only just had their first taste of WSL 1, when compared to the team they got promoted with, the Belles, Reading have excelled. Their defensive record far healthier, their ability to dig in and refuse to let their heads drop when they concede again, far superior to that of the team that is on their way back down.
Reading had a job to do this year, and that was simply to avoid the drop and to learn and adjust, and they have done that with aplomb – it is, after all hard to expect teams to come up and blow the established sides out of the water. The signs for the Royals are positive and if they can add goals to their game next season – and indeed in the Spring Series – there is no reason for the fans to fear relegation.
Reading’s final points tally of nine, would have been enough to see them safe in the past five years of WSL 1, as well as this year. In many ways is hard not to argue that Reading have had a successful season – the Spring Series as good test for how far they can come over the winter.