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Bristol City 3-2 Reading

This was not what I had in mind when I talked about righting the wrong of earlier in the season. Reading, for the umpteenth time, failed to beat a team they should have dispatched.

Kelly Chambers shook the team up, with Emma Harries coming back into the side. That freed Harding to move back to right-back, and Mitchell across to her natural left side. Fishlock and Eikeland started on the bench for the first time this season, as Williams and Bruton came in to replace them.

Reading's direct goal kick routine. Moloney touches to James, who passes to Rowe. Her carries were pivotal in Reading's best moves.

It started well enough, Reading went 1-0 up after a direct move. Throughout the course of the game, Reading used James to play out from goal kicks, with Moloney tapping the ball to her and allowing her to carry the ball out of the six-yard box. The defensive midfielder was clearly tasked with being the progressor, also dropping deep to pick up the ball in open play. From goal kicks, she would look to pass up the middle of the pitch, usually to Rowe between the lines.

It's an interesting tactical shift, given that Reading's 4-2-2-2 tends not to have a defined central attacking midfielder. It was, however, where the space was and Mitchell was often found running down the left to replace the lost width. Rowe tended to turn and run at the defence, attacking the retreating Bristol defence. To sum up her game, she was top in the number of progressive passes received (15, next best 8) and progressive runs made (10, next best 5).

Rowe's pass was poor for the opener, but thankfully a mix up among the Bristol City defenders meant the ball fell to Harding inside the box, her shot deflected to Harries who scored her first senior goal. The teenager was definitely offside from Harding's initial effort, but I guess we'll let it go. Her finish wasn't the cleanest but taken early before any more players in red could swarm around her.

Daniels intercepts the ball before Salmon has far too much space to pick her pass

The away side had already had a warning about Bartrip's passes out to Harding after Yana Daniels nicked in to steal the ball away from the receiver before comically diving in the box (sans yellow card). They should have taken heed, as Bartrip pulled a pass, making it easy for Daniels to intercept again. Her touch fell to Salmon with time and space to slide in Wellings, whose first time shot nutmegged Moloney and levelled the match. Interestingly, Wellings has a goal and an assist this season, both against Reading.

Salmon was in the space vacated by James as she dropped centrally, but the defensive midfielder never pushed out to her - and you are going to be punished by Ebony Salmon if you give her the kind of room Reading did. James, as already touched on, was playing a slightly different role, one that would normally be Fishlock's domain. Potentially that lack of time in the position was a factor.

Moloney's body shape is all wrong to try to jump straight up. While she is commanding in the area, she has trouble getting off the ground at the best of times.

Things got worse around the hour mark as the home side took the lead. A corner routine was initially dealt with by James before she was dispossessed on the edge of the box. Mitchell tried to get to the loose ball, but was beaten by Laura Rafferty. Her touch found Jemma Purfield, coming off taking the corner, and her shot looped over Moloney in the goal.

It's one where the goalie probably does have to take the majority of the blame. It's also one where the diminutive stature of Moloney does her no favours at all. She gets her body in the wrong position, rather than sidestepping across, she puts her left foot across her body to start going right. That makes it tougher to go straight up and makes the save harder.

It was Reading's turn to answer back, with basically their first really good bit of play. Fara Williams hadn't been too involved in play up until the 70th minute. That was partially by design, with James' progressive passing effectively bypassing England's record caps holder. This time she picked up the ball on the halfway line, spotted Rowe's run, and put the ball expertly over the top of the defence, into the attacker's path. Rowe's finish was beautiful, being as close to a net-buster as any Reading player has managed this season.

But Reading were not done shooting themselves in the foot. In the last half hour Williams went into shoot from anywhere mode. With four shots (itself enough to tie the game-high ignoring her other hour of play) all from 28 yards or more. That would have been bad enough, given the away side should have been attempting to play through a Bristol defence that has so far conceded 57 goals, but one of her efforts, twelve minutes from time, was blocked with the ball falling to a red shirt.

The Bristol City strikers start wide, in the space vacated by the aggressive Reading defence, and nobody ever picks them up.

A couple of touches later, and The Robins had worked the ball to Abigail Harrison, hugging the right wing on the halfway line. Again, the player on the ball had far too much space to pick a pass with Reading players caught upfield. Mitchell had joined the last attack, and James was tracking the player central. And Harrison punished The Royals for their mistakes, as her ball over Cooper found Salmon. The striker was in behind Harding, and Cooper couldn't get across quick enough as she finished into the far corner.

Reading looked a tired team, and they still don't have a response when teams break wide. Bristol City played it perfectly. Salmon is rapid, almost to the level where you have to see it to believe it. Chambers bemoaned the lack of consistency, but Reading only have one way of playing. A way of playing that seems designed to counter the opposition, rather than get the best of her players - that's why Reading are so often involved in 1-1 draws.

A second yellow in stoppage time for Reading's best player, Rowe, topped off a horrible evening.

Again, you could look at the chances missed, but you shouldn't be conceding three times to a team that have blanked on seven occasions - losing each one of those seven by at least four goals. And Bristol have only conceded less than three on five occasions, with two of those being in games against Reading.

Reading have been in midtable obscurity all season, and that's only set to continue. There has to be more to life than this, doesn't there?


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