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Aston Villa 2-2 Reading

 Not for the first time this season, Reading failed to follow up on an impressive point last time out.

Reading's movement opened space for Fishlock before a second trigger saw three players follow the shot in.

Things started well, as Reading scored their obligatory early set-piece goal. Those on the edge of the box all made runs to open space for Fishlock, who arrived late to the edge of the area. Her shot was parried straight into the path of Angharad James to turn home. It was a smart routine with the runners being crucial, even if they were never going to get the ball. The pass back to Rachel Rowe was the trigger to make space for Fishlock on the edge of the area, and then the midfielder shaping to shoot saw runners looking to capitalise on any rebound.

There were less positive things to say when defending a free-kick early in the second half. Natalie Haigh somehow slid the ball past Rowe and allowed the impressive Mana Iwabuchi to level the score from six yards. Rowe wasn't prepared for the ball along the floor - presumably expecting Haigh to curl an aerial cross. It's hard to say much more about it, the failing is basically on Rowe neither cutting off that pass nor fully tracking Iwabuchi.

This game sums up the issue Reading have with Jess Fishlock. She is undroppable, that much is clear. The Welsh international is consistently one of the bright sparks in attack, and the sides main creator. She underlined that by setting up Rowe (who, you may have gathered, was also crucial at both ends) to put Reading back in the lead. Villa had completely lost track of Rowe, with Anita Asante at left-back coming central to cover Harding's run. Despite getting the ball stuck underneath her feet, the attacking midfielder finished well into the far corner.

Fishlock should even have had another assist. A nice drag back in midfield beat two players, before drawing the attention of three in claret and blue. That left Danielle Carter over on the left, in the space created by Villa's right-back pushing high. The striker had plenty of time to pick her spot but hit the keeper, before Eikeland too fired straight at the goalie on the follow-up. Both are players I've highlighted as not being natural finishers, and the team paid the price for it again. The latter had another opportunity late on, clean through on goal, but didn't even manage to get a shot away.

Fishlock notices Iwabuchi's run but doesn't track it. Harding chased the ball but was always behind the play.

But Fishlock is also culpable on a number of goals at the other end and, when your side aren't blowing teams away, that's critical. For the stoppage-time equaliser, she doubled up on Iwabuchi but allowed her to shift the ball and run unmarked into the box to receive the return. Deanna Cooper also doesn't cover herself in glory as Iwabuchi steps past her as if she's not there. The cutback allowed Diana Silva to stick a foot out and direct it into the goal.

Which also isn't to say that Fishlock doesn't contribute defensively. Her tackles + interceptions was a game-high 6. Plus she made a great block after Cooper got caught out of position midway through the second half. It just feels like Fishlock is asked to do everything. I'm not surprised she might be a little burnt out by the time the final few minutes comes around, especially given Reading's desire to press all over the field. To compound all of that, this was another game where Reading only used two of their possible five subs.

Villa's front three made it hard to play into central midfield, forcing Reading wide

Aston Villa actually tried to negate Fishlock's influence on the game by packing the middle of the park with their 4-3-3. As the first half progressed, the away side found a way to play forward - with Cooper and Bartrip starting wider, or Fishlock dropping into the left-back position to pick up the ball. Mitchell could then push further forward to play high up the field almost a left-winger with cover behind her.

At the other end, Reading looked to exploit Sophie Haywood's advanced positioning when Villa were going forward by playing into the left-hand channel, to varying levels of success. Villa's defence swung round to cover the right-back - effectively moving to a back three in possession. That gave Reading options down both sides but Bethan Roberts, making her first start, wasn't quite as adventurous down the right.

Reading's formation, the now standard 4-2-2-2, does allow them to easily overload the half-spaces. Having to deal with a striker, attacking midfielder, and attacking full back all looking between CB and FB often causing issues for the defending side. The main problem for The Royals is that when Eikeland got into crossing positions she rarely delivered. Mostly because of the quality of the cross (she was on her weak foot, but above is just a misunderstanding of where runners are) but also because Villa's midfield three could drop in and pack the box.

Three Aston Villa players go to make the block on James' shot

In fact, the key to Villa's defence was the sheer number of bodies they protected the goal with when Reading were in offensive positions. They frequently had eight, nine, ten players in their own area. The Villans blocked seven shots, with another six being saved - half of those were from outside the box. You want to see Reading be more patient when they're the dominant side. Look for a good opening, rather than the first.

Reading haven't been good enough at either end of the pitch this season, and it's cost them again. You could highlight the fact that Villa had two shots on target and scored twice, but both were from inside the six-yard box. Give those sort of chances up and more often than not you'll be punished. Reading played well against United in December, and will have to reach those levels again.


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