With the international break creating a pause in domestic action, Reading FC Women manager Kelly Chambers has been reflecting on her team’s start to the 2020-21 season.
With half-a-dozen games of the campaign played so far, including the first round of fixtures in the Continental Cup, it has been a largely positive beginning for Chambers’ side regarding their performances on the field.
The Royals bounced back from a disappointing opening day of the 2020-21 campaign against Arsenal with a 3-1 victory over newly promoted Aston Villa at the Madejski in a solid team performance. The first international break of the season followed, but Reading hit the ground running, securing consecutive wins with a 1-0 victory away to West Ham in the league and a dominant 4-0 display at home to Charlton in the Conti-Cup.
The wave of momentum was halted following the victory over Charlton, in a frustrating affair against Birmingham City in which Kelly Chambers’ side had the majority of possession, as well as 22 shots on the Birmingham goal, but walked away on the wrong side of a 1-0 scoreline after a 72nd minute goal against the run of play by the visiting side.
However, the pendulum was to swing again as title contenders Manchester City visited RG2 and, after 90 frustrating minutes without a goal against Birmingham the week before, it took just three for Reading to score against City, as Amalie Eikeland converted from a Brooke Chaplen corner to give the home side the lead. Reading held on for almost an hour before eventually succumbing to a Sam Mewis strike. But Chambers’ side dug deep, defended tenaciously and walked away with a hard-fought point in a 1-1 draw against world class opposition.
“I think that our performances have been fantastic since our disappointing result against Arsenal,” Chambers said. “Bouncing back from that was the most important thing for us, and since then our performances have been outstanding, even against Birmingham, we just weren’t ruthless enough in front of goal.
“We felt confident going into the Birmingham game. As I say, we’d been on a good run, good momentum, good results. We went into the game feeling positive, but that’s football; that’s why people love it and hate it. Fair play to Birmingham, they made it as hard as possible, they changed shape a bit in the second-half. But again, we still found so many openings, but we just didn’t find the back of the net and if we’d have scored early, the game would have been very different.”
However, when it came to the Manchester City encounter, Reading did score early and then went on to defend for a large portion of the game while it was the opposing team’s turn to feel the frustrations of not being able to score at the Madejski.
“We put our game plan into action against City,” Chambers continued. “Fair play to the girls, obviously we scored very early on, but our defending was second-to-none, it was outstanding.
“I believe City played their strongest eleven against us. We go one-nil up from a set-piece that we’d worked hard on last week. Obviously, we know the quality in the City side, individually and collectively and we knew we were going to be on the back foot at times throughout the game, but for us, the result is the most important thing. As much as everyone wants to win the game, a point on the board against Manchester City, especially coming off the back of the Birmingham game, is a positive result for us. Ultimately, we showed our true colours.”
On injury updates...
Chambers also spoke about a couple of question-marks raised by the media over the fitness of striker Danielle Carter and midfielder Fara Williams after the Manchester City match.
Carter scored Reading’s first goal of the season on her debut against her former side Arsenal and netted again in the Conti-Cup clash with Charlton. However, Carter didn’t start against Birmingham and was replaced by Rachel Rowe after an hour against Manchester City. “She’s fine,” Chambers said. “Dan’s been out of the game for a very long time and it’s obviously taken her a little while to get up to speed. She had a bit of a hamstring issue during the Man City game, but she’s fine and playing really well.”
Williams, however, was absent from the matchday squads for both the Manchester City and Charlton games and came off the bench for just half an hour against Birmingham. “Injury wise, Fara is fine, she’s actually coming off the back of an illness. It’s one that we thought we'd got ahead of and she’s been on medication for quite some time and it’s just a case of her body having a bit of a reaction to that, so we’ve stepped off the gas with regards to football and just trying to really look after her as a person and her health before we start thinking about football. Hopefully it’s not a long-term thing, just a couple of weeks, but she’s definitely one that we miss out there and we can’t wait to get her back.”
Royals keeper Grace Moloney has enjoyed a fine spell of form which includes a couple of cleansheets, a penalty save against West Ham and a standout performance against Manchester City in which her and the Reading defence dealt resiliently with a constant barrage of attacks throughout the match from the visiting side. Moloney, in particular, pulled off some incredible and highly important saves from the likes of Georgia Stanway and Sam Mewis.
“This season, she’s been outstanding,” Chambers said about her number one. “She’s been working hard physically and really putting in the graft in training to make sure that she’s getting better and better. Her performances this season really have been fantastic, whether that’s shot-stopping, whether that’s in possession she’s really taken on board what she’s being told in training and it’s really paying off for her.”
Reading FC Women are next in action following the international break on November 4th when they travel to West Ham for a midweek Continental Cup clash, before a trio of away fixtures against Tottenham, Everton and Brighton & Hove Albion.