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Reading 1-2 Manchester United

In a complete reversal to last weekend Reading were up against the side top of the table, rather than the bottom. While giving a good account of themselves, they'll be unhappy in the manner of defeat.

Nothing sums up the problem inherent in a 4-2-2-2 quite like the Red Devils using their width to put themselves in 2-on-1 situations in wide areas with dangerous runners in behind. The six players in front of the defence are all focused on the centre of the pitch, allowing time and space wide. The attacking midfield duo are meant to put pressure on opposition fullbacks, but that's slightly easier for 25yo Eikeland on the right than 36yo Williams out left.

Another issue is that, given that Reading are always reticent about using their fullbacks in attacking situations lest they be caught out like on United's opening goal, there are often few options when attacking that don't require a skilful pass. That's exacerbated on the break when James and Fishlock aren't legitimate options. Too often it ends up leading to players running down dead ends. And it's frustrating because when Reading utilise the wider areas themselves they often create good opportunities.

United's opener was easily avoidable, right from Harries decision to go down in the United box under little pressure. From there the away side regained the ball and were able to set Galton away down the left. Neither Fishlock nor Leine were able to keep up, with the latter moving a little hesitantly after a tackle. As Cooper came across to cover, Galton shifted the ball left and fired almost straight were Moloney should have been positioned - except she'd preemptively gone to her left expecting the shot across her.

Too often Reading took the wrong options in the final third of the pitch. Emma Harries, making her first start, had a decent game, but showed her lack of experience on a few occasions. For instance, after Reading won the ball back high on the right, she opted to attempt to beat the United player rather than just whipping a ball across for Harding to attack.

So it was lucky that United helped them out. Harding chased a ball into the left channel - one of the only times that Reading attempted to set Harding away and recycled possession with Fishlock. The Welsh international played into Fara Williams, who shielded the ball from three United players. One of them got a boot in to direct the ball back into Fishlock's path, and her shot was deflected past Earps in goal. Much like the men's team midweek, hardly a replicable attack but one that saw the scores level.

The game was poised to be Reading's fifth straight 1-1 draw, but their downfall was the corners that, up until the 83rd minute, they'd defended so well. The Royals were consistently first to the incoming ball, but this time the header ricocheted off a couple of players and ended up being perfect for Hayley Ladd - totally free - to nod in from close range. Fishlock, not for the first time this season, was caught ball watching and didn't track the run, making it a far easier header than it should have been.

So, a disappointing loss if not unexpected. Going into a game against lowly Brighton, Reading are becoming cut adrift from the teams above them. Four points the gap to Everton, with another four to the top four. Meanwhile, the gap down to eleventh is a measly, you may have guessed it, four points. To give this season any meaning at all they need to kick into gear quickly.


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