City in the ascendancy
Picking up from where they left off last season, City took no time in asserting themselves into the game, quick to get in behind the Royals back-line, Mary Earps and the swarm of fluorescent yellow shirts in front of her doing enough to block all shots. The Citizen’s first carved out effort came just after ten minutes when Georgia Stanway found the space between Kirsty McGee and Mandy van den Berg to connect well in front of goal, drawing a good mid-height save from Earps.
The chance swiftly followed by Reading’s first chance with Rachel Furness swinging the ball in low for an arriving Charlie Estcourt, the young attacker’s first touch enough to scoop the ball over Karen Bardsley’s goal. The charge on the home box a rarity in the game as City pressed on again, Jill Scott’s header from Demi Stokes cross another comfortable one for Earps, the keeper kept busy in the opening exchanges.
Furness’ drive from 25 yards the next time the Royals were on the offensive, the Irish international’s effort wayward with better options in front of her. The work from the hosts far smoother, the full backs linking well with the wingers, Stokes and Mel Lawley happy to cause all sorts of problems on the left. Much the dominant force, the only thing missing for City was a goal, the net begging four minutes before the break as the hosts had three bites of the cherry, Nikita Parris’ eventual effort nodded over the bar.
The second-half fast became a mirror of the first, the Citizens on the offensive but with little to show for their dominance, Earps alert but her saves remained routine. The fouls that littered the first also rearing their ugly head after the break, the slick pitch doing nothing to help the tackles that invariably flew in.
Even having won a penalty for a lazy foul on Lucy Bronze by van den Berg, the hosts still couldn’t open their opposition up, Stanway’s spot kick read and saved very well by Earps. With Jane Ross on in place of the young Stanway, the Citizens had more of a focal point in attack and an immediate overload in attack saw Parris scuff her shot, a better contact a certain goal. Steph Houghton’s header at yet another home corner again claimed well by Earps, the England keeper with a glut of saves to her name but only one that had really tested her with the game nearing the seventy-minute mark.
Corner after corner, chance after chance for City, but it was with no avail, the finish routinely lacked, the shots cleared and claimed by the visitors. Although City continued to labour for their opener they were safe in the knowledge that well Reading did string enough passes together in attack, they were unlikely to trouble Bardsley, the Royals without a clear attacking identity in the match. A sprinkling of chances either side of substitutes for both sides, gave Reading something to attack but their aerial presence always second best to City’s.
The pendulum swung back towards the hosts after a moment or two with Reading, last ditch challenges and clearances just enough to keep the two deadlocked, the visitors exhausted but with dogged determination. Carli Lloyd’s neat ball through to Ross saw the attacker one-on-one with Earps but a last-second intervention from Harriet Scott cleared the ball from the pair, the breakthrough refusing to come for the WSL champions.
With extra time looming the goal finally came, rather from a mistake than moment of brilliance. The ball wormed out to Bronze on the edge of the area with the full-back opting to volley the ball high, the looped effort looked to be heading straight into Earps’ gloves only for the keeper to attempt to parry the ball upwards as it clipped off of the bar and in behind her. A horrible mistake from Earps who had dealt with everything else thrown at her, a routine save her undoing. The young goalkeeper able to brush herself off and make another good save moments later to get a scant fingertip on Jill Scott’s effort to help it slip wide of the far post.
The match a good warm-up for City who will travel to Denmark in a few days to play Fortuna Hjørring in the first leg of their UWCL quater-final clash, though the Citizens will need to shake of their winter rust as quickly as they can.