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Reading 1-1 Everton

What is there to say about Reading women that hasn't already been said? Reading registered their sixth 1-1 draw of the season.

What was new was that this was the first Reading game where they bettered their opponent's xG by over a goal, outside of games against the bottom four. Not only that, but they've exceeded the opposition's xG in each of the last three matches, before that they'd failed to do so in consecutive matches. While Villa are one of those sides, Manchester United and Everton are legitimately good teams this year.

Unfortunately, Reading didn't manage to convert chances - but, as the xG stats suggest, this wasn't the same sort of performance as clinging on in the reverse fixture. They had a number of chances to score more in the first half but didn't convert. 

Eikeland needs to bend the ball into the far post, but her shot is at the goalkeeper    

Amalie Eikeland had a chance within the first ten minutes to bend past the goalkeeper coming in from the corner of the box but didn't set it far enough out of the keeper's reach. Rowe hesitates for a second to try to understand where the ball is going but had she just continued her run she probably would have had a tap in. Then the Norwegian had an opportunity from a free-kick at the back post - where Reading have been consistently deadly throughout the season - but hit the upright before Harding's follow up header was cleared off the line.

While Reading's press is fairly disorganised at times, it almost paid off toward the end of the first half. The Royals forced Everton back to their keeper, and a poor touch from their centre back allowed James to steal the ball and feed Rowe on the right side of the box. Harding ran toward the front post, and tried to shoot first time but only managed to deflect the ball out of Eikeland's path coming in behind her.

Reading's goal came about by a slice of good fortune. A good cross from Lily Woodham saw the Everton defender attempt to head the ball clear. Instead, she headed against Carter and the ball looped over the keeper for Rowe to finish. A slice of good fortune, but arguably deserved. 

There are still some questions around whether playing long is the right plan A for this side. They have excellent passers of the football in the defensive unit. In Carter, they have someone willing and able to play between the lines and receive passes. She's in the 84th percentile of progressive passes received among forwards (as per fbref) and rivals Fishlock in shot-creating actions when she plays. Rather than having her play as a front two, why not drop her into central attacking midfield and form a 4-2-3-1? That also allows the current attacking midfielders to focus on protecting the wide areas, which was ultimately the downfall here.

Eikeland pressing narrow means Everton have too much space down the wing. To compound the issue, nobody picks up Sorensen coming in from the other side.

As the game developed, Everton started pushing their full backs higher, getting their three forwards - and midfield runners - into the box. Reading aren't set up to defend the wide areas, and it's easy for opposition teams to overwhelm the full back. The Toffees did precisely that as they drew level. Ingrid Moe Wold running completely untracked down the right and clipping to the back post for Sorensen to nod back past Moloney.

Yet another goal conceded in the final fifteen minutes - made worse by the fact that Reading haven't scored at home after the 56th minute all season. The home side only named six substitutes, and Chambers brought on the only outfield players over 18 in Leine and Bruton - both of whom are also coming back from injuries. Conversely, the away side managed to introduce four attacking internationals. Reading's squad just can't compete with that currently.

It's probably not helped by the main angle of attack being balls over the top for the front four to chase. I've touched on how much work Fishlock is expected to do, but that's just as true for Eikeland and Rowe. You don't see those two stop shuttling back and forth but, again, that surely costs the team toward the end of the game. Perhaps it's time to look at a less intense way of playing?

At the end of the day, as much as Reading players may have been talking this up as a six-pointer, it's a decent point against a side above us. Next time out we have to right a wrong from earlier in the season, when we failed to beat Bristol City despite battering them for 90 minutes. More importantly, another opportunity for Reading to realise they need to sign Ebony Salmon.

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