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Reading Women Round Up

It's been a couple of months since I caught up with Reading Women, and in that time they've had a bit of an erratic run.

They started well, beating West Ham with the only goal of the game in the league before despatching Charlton 4-0 in the Conti Cup. Defeat at home to Birmingham gave the visitors their first win of the year before a draw with Manchester City corrected course. A two-and-a-half-week break finished with another match away at West Ham, this time in the cup. The home side scored thrice without reply to take all three points in the group stage.

Reading have continued to play the 4-3-3 (or 4-4-2 diamond). After Fara Williams was injured in the first ten minutes in the first West Ham game Jess Fishlock has dropped to play as the deepest CM, with James to her right and a rotating cast taking the final spot. Up front it's been Bruton and Carter with Eikeland sitting just behind.

Mitchell is caught upfield, but nobody tracks the run into the RW channel - as Fishlock probably should.

The major problem has been teams getting in behind Mitchell, as was seen in the opening match against Arsenal. Reading's full-backs press on early and often, and that can lead to them being caught out. West Ham looked to exploit it in both games, and Birmingham's goal came down that side.

Admittedly Brum's goal was largely down to the centre-backs getting into trouble. Cooper's poor touch lost the ball, and Bartrip failed to track Walker in the box. It was a combination of both aspects that saw West Ham open the scoring midweek. Cooper switched off from Martha Thomas' run initially, with Harding too slow to keep pace with Alisha Lehmann. The pair just had to roll it around the goalkeeper and the finish was simple.

That's not to say that Reading haven't had signs of being defensively resolute. They've only conceded three in the league since being battered on opening day. Moloney has been in great form, keeping the team in matches against West Ham and City. She was named on the team sheet for West Ham 2 but was replaced last minute by Nayler. The incoming keeper looked a little more shakey - finding herself caught out by a couple of set pieces. She too could do little about the goals, though.

Ultimately it's at the other end that Reading have struggled. Only scoring more than once against second division Charlton, and WSL newbies Aston Villa. 21 shots against Birmingham only required four saves. Both of Reading's shots on target against City came in the opening three minutes before they looked to hold their lead. To hammer home the point, they were awarded two penalties midweek and scored neither.

Fishlock shoots from 35 yards (and draws a good save)

But it's also crucial to know where those shots are coming from. In that Birmingham game, Reading's total xG was 1.2. They're not creating good quality chances. The midfield had 10 shots, the full-backs four, and the three forwards only seven. Eikeland, who played almost an hour, had none. Only six were from inside the eighteen-yard box. There's some logic to it - keepers in the WSL are not as big, they can't get across as easily. Reading, in Fishlock, Williams, and James, have great strikers of the ball. You just wish they'd be a bit more patient at times; when they are there are often chances to be had.

The flip side of getting the FBs forward - Mitchell wins her first penalty by finding space, and being fouled by the WH player attempting to recover

They get some joy down the flanks, Cooper and Bartrip are adept at playing lovely crossfield balls to the wings to open space, but the pay-off is the defensive issues. It was Mitchell who was fouled for both penalties in Dagenham, and the left-back has the most shot-creating actions so far this season. 

Centrally Carter is excellent at holding the ball up, but it's too easy to negate one player's influence at this level. The former-Arsenal striker occasionally puts on her blinkers when others are in better positions. Her only league goal of the year so far came in tackling the Arsenal goalkeeper for a consolation.

What doesn't help is that none of Reading's striking options have ever been prolific goalscorers. Fara Williams has been leading goalscorer the last two seasons, but that was from a more advanced position. She's also 37 this season, and Reading desperately need to find a solution both to their immediate problems, but also the long term viability of a strategy that relies on either Williams or the on-loan Fishlock. 

It's still early doors, and they play a Spurs side with a solitary point from five fixtures. It's got to be time to kick on.

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