Manchester United moved top of the WSL table thanks to a last gasp win away against a resilient Reading, leapfrogging Chelsea on goal difference after their game against Liverpool was abandoned.
Just as it looked as though Reading would hold out and frustrate United after Katie Zelem had seen a first half penalty saved, substitute Rachel Williams proved to be the hero in the closing stages.
The first real chance of the game went the way of the visitors, who started on the front foot, when the ball ran into the path of Hayley Ladd in the penalty area. But her effort was straight at Jacqueline Burns and gratefully grasped by the Reading goalkeeper.
It was apparent that the Royals had learned from their 4-0 drubbing at the hands of United on the opening weekend of the season and were working extra hard in midfield to close any gaps. Justine Vanhaevermaet even had Mary Earps scrambling with an audacious half volley from out wide, while England’s number one had to be alert to parry an Emma Harries shot at the near post.
United had their own chances to break the deadlock midway though the half, first when Nikita Parris gave Diane Caldwell the slip but miscued her shot from a narrow angle across the goal. Moments later, Lucia Garcia had a pair of decent opportunities, with Burns equal to both.
Burns again proved a nuisance to United in the closing stages of the first half when she excellently saved Zelem’s penalty low to her right. Caldwell had clumsily brought down Alessia Russo. Caldwell made up for it soon after with a last-ditch block to deny Parris a glorious chance that the England winger should have buried. Within seconds of that, she had smacked the bar too.
United started brightly after the restart and Russo was only centimetres away from connecting with Garcia’s cushioned ball across the six-yard box. Reading later had captain Emma Mukandi to thank for deflecting Ella Toone’s low shot wide of the post.
Burns made another top save as the game ticked into the final 25 minutes, diving low to her right to grasp a goal-bound Russo shot.
With United continually running into a brick wall, they needed Earps – hardly busy since the first 20 minutes – to be at her brilliant best at the other end to get fingertips to Vanhaevermaet’s flicked header and stop Reading getting ahead late on.
That proved even more crucial when Williams popped up with the winner only two minutes before the end. The play looked to have broken down on the United left, but the veteran kept her cool as she shimmied her way into the box, biding her time to allow the gap in the Reading defence to open up before firing high into the net and finally beating Burns.
GK: Jacqueline Burns – 9/10 – This game would have been over a lot sooner had it not been for numerous top saves – including one from the penalty spot.
RB: Emma Mukandi (c) – 7/10 – Made an important block early in the second half.
CB: Diane Caldwelll – 7/10 – First appearance against her old club since a short spell in red last season. Gave away a penalty but also made a huge block just before half-time.
CB: Gemma Evans – 7/10 – Repelled nearly everything that came her way but couldn’t see it out.
LB: Lily Woodham – 7/10 – Had her work cut against a direct Garcia but she outlasted the Spaniard.
DM: Justine Vanhaevermaet – 8/10 – Only narrowly missed the target with what would have been a goal of the season contender in the first half. Sat on Toone well just in front of the back four.
RM: Amalie Eikeland – 6/10 – Found it difficult to make an impact in an attacking sense.
CM: Sanne Troelsgaard – 7/10 – Made it a physical battle.
LM: Rachel Rowe – 7/10 – Worked hard off the ball, especially to protect Woodham behind her.
ST: Charlie Wellings- 5/10 – Saw very little of the ball and provided no real danger.
ST: Emma Harries – 6/10 – Had potential to be a threat but lacked conviction in good positions more than once. Did bring a good save out of Earps. Faded later on.
SUB: Tia Primmer (65′ for Troelsgaard) – 6/10
SUB: Lauren Wade (87′ for Rowe) – N/A
SUB: Natasha Dowie (90′ for Harries) – N/A
SUB: Faye Bryson (90+1′ for Wellings) – N/A
Kelly Chambers – 8/10 – Sent her team out with a clear game plan that showed massive improvements sine the last time these teams met. It almost worked perfectly.
GK: Mary Earps – 8/10 – Called into a action a few times in the opening 20 minutes, as well as making an outstanding save to keep it 0-0 with just over 10 minutes left.
RB: Ona Batlle – 6/10 – Had a quiet first hour by her usual attacking standards but began to turn the screw and get forward more in the final half hour.
CB: Maya Le Tissier – 7/10 – Good on the ball and covered well.
CB: Millie Turner – 6/10 – Virtually always in control defensively.
LB: Hannah Blundell – 6/10 – Polished defensive performance.
CM: Katie Zelem (c) – 6/10 – Created a number of chances but will be disappointed she couldn’t convert from the spot.
CM: Hayley Ladd – 6/10 – Played the destructive role she knows so well, yet Reading did a good job of stopping her also step up with the ball in transition.
AM: Ella Toone – 6/10 – Swamped by Reading’s first half pressing. Found slightly more space in the second half and did make chances.
RW: Lucia Garcia – 7/10 – Didn’t limit herself to sticking out wide and provided a consistent threat. Probably her team’s best attacking player.
ST: Alessia Russo – 6/10 – Moved all over looking to get involved and keep Reading guessing. Won the penalty but often crowded out.
LW: Nikita Parris – 6/10 – Should have done better with a few first half chances, including striking the bar. Linked up well with Garcia on a few occasions.
SUB: Martha Thomas (65 ‘ for Parris) – 6/10
SUB: Rachel Williams (84′ for Garcia) – 7/10 – Popping up with the late winning goal in superb style.
Marc Skinner – 7/10 – Caught in a difficult position, with the players on the pitch making chances but not taking them. Aside from Thomas, held off changing things until much later. But was vindicated when Williams scored the winner off the bench.
Player of the match – Jacqueline Burns (Reading)
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