Outstanding defending and ball retention from an up-and-coming Reading WFC side gave Chelsea LFC their first reality check of the domestic campaign. After falling behind to a well-worked goal, the Blues were lucky to get back into it through a brilliant Karen Carney free kick. Eni Aluko then gave Chelsea the lead somewhat against the run of play, but an own goal from Magdalena Eriksson in stoppage time ensured a heart-breaking result and the first dropped points of the WSL season for the Ladies.
It was a bright start from both sides, with Reading pressing high and Chelsea getting a few near-chances on the break. It was clear that the hosts would look to keep the Blues pinned back and contain their most dangerous players by forcing them to sit deep in defense. Hard work and aggression from Kirby and Spence up top produced a good chance for Spence, but her shot was too soft to get beyond the keeper. A minute later, she was in again, this time through a long ball, but her touch let her down. Kirby and Spence were causing all kinds of problems together, and another chance went begging in the seventh minute, with the keeper coming out quickly to close down the angle. Gemma Davison was also looking like she’d brought her A-game, and some solid footwork at the top of the box created a window in the defense, but her shot didn’t find the target.
But Reading were getting their chances as well: Bruton was flagged for a very tight offsides call, and had the flag not gone up, she almost certainly would have given Lindahl some work to do. Minutes later, Millie Bright was in trouble after Lindahl had not come to claim a deflected ball, and the defender found herself surrounded by white and blue shirts. Her clearance ricocheted off another attacker, and she did well to get to the rebound and drive out of danger commandingly.
The pace continued to be frantic, both teams playing with great urgency for the first half-hour. Davison recovered a loose ball near the opposing goal line, and whipped it along to Carney, who was able to put an excellent cross into the box. Unfortunately, the 5’2’’ Kirby wasn’t able to get her head to it. Bright was having her name called much more regularly than a center back would prefer, and despite her immense physical frame and significant athleticism, she looked a bit hurried at times. In providing some support to her beleaguered teammate, Maria Thorisdottir was adjudged to have imposed herself too physically, and earned the match’s first yellow.
Not long after the free kick, a cross from that same wing caused Chelsea more trouble than they’d had thus far this season. Lindahl got a fist to it, but didn’t clear it very far and a flying block from Eriksson left her reeling and in a heap for a moment. Chelsea scrambled to adjust but a clever back-heeled pass from Farrah Williams found Remy Allen in front of goal and the latter had no problem picking her spot. It was the first time Lindahl had to pick the ball out of her net in the league, but it was nothing less than Reading deserved. Williams and Allen had been causing problems all game.
Reading lead against Chelsea as the Blues concede their first goal in the #FAWSL this season. pic.twitter.com/KDxR5t2sXf— Kieran Theivam (@KiersTheivam) November 12, 2017
Chelsea were a bit unsettled after that moment, and struggled to link up going forward. There was an intensity about their play, but the passes just weren’t finding the right feet. The Ladies looked to be going into halftime with the match in their opponents’ hands. In fact, they would’ve felt relieved when a crunching tackle from Chapman was ignored by the referee, and the flag was subsequently raised for offsides when a Reading attacker then found herself one-on-one with Lindahl. In kicking it away, Chaplen earned herself RWFC’s first yellow. Nonetheless, the pressure from the hosts was working, and that did not bode well for the second half.
Moments like these are when managers earn their keep, and Emma Hayes would’ve presumably had a very ... enthusiastic ... team talk, but she also made an interesting change, bringing on the in-form Crystal Dunn for Maria Thorisdottir. Davison switched from left to right to give Dunn that wing.
The start to the second half from the Blues was full of good intent, and they nearly worked a chance for Kirby, who almost got a toe to the ball ahead of the Reading keeper. But whether it was the midweek travel or some other fitness issue, Chelsea were not quite up to their usual sharp, snappy, accurate standard. Reading seemed sharper, quicker, more aware.
Lindahl was forced into action again early in the half, as a floating cross wound up at the back post, and a strong header required a good save. Several subsequent forays into Reading’s half ended with nothing too intimidating, until finally some smart footwork from Carney earned a free kick from a dangerous position just left of center. Carney stepped up, and got Chelsea back on level terms. Not the greatest wall you’ll ever see, but take nothing away from the finish.
Brilliant from @karenjcarney as Chelsea level it up. pic.twitter.com/kcXjsRAX2n— Kieran Theivam (@KiersTheivam) November 12, 2017
Even though the balance of play had been in Reading’s favor for a fair portion of the match, the sides were now level. And neither were interested in settling for a draw.
Reading almost immediately got back in the lead through a free-kick of their own, but it smacked off the right upright. Spence, Kirby, and Carney then all worked decent chances, before the former was withdrawn in the 65th minute. On came Eni Aluko, who had been delightful in all of her appearances thus far this season, adding more width the Chelsea attack and as a result, creating more space in the center of the park as well.
Dunn’s energy on the left was also proving helpful since the half-time change, and she got on to the end of a lobbed cross from Kirby but was closed down quickly. A few minutes later she earned a free kick, and the atmosphere among the home fans grew tense as Carney stood over the ball again. Unfortunately, the distance was too much for a shot, and the set piece only resulted in a questionable foul call in the box that gave the blue and white stripes a let-off.
Seconds later, the Blues were breathing a sigh of relief as a great run down Chelsea’s right side broke beyond Bright, but Reading overplayed their chance as if they were peak Arsenal. Chelsea really should’ve been behind, and were nearly again a moment later anyway. A bad clearance from Bright and an uncertain parry from Lindahl should’ve been punished with a better shot, but Bruton’s volley fortunately went wide.
The problem wasn’t really any individual player (save perhaps Bright, and occasionally Chapman), but rather the collective, as things simply weren’t “clicking” as we’ve become accustomed to. In fact, the first time Chelsea finally managed to produce a great bit of team play, it resulted in their first goal from open play. A driving run from Davison had the Reading defense running backwards, which left room for Kirby to find space. Kirby popped a nice ball right to the feet of Aluko, who continued her fine run of form with her fifth goal of the season.
Sign of a team full of confidence when you turn a score around against a good side like Reading. Superb finish from @EniAlu. #FAWSL pic.twitter.com/aXwWtlDBpT— Kieran Theivam (@KiersTheivam) November 12, 2017
Hayes immediately used her final substitution, exchanging the bright Davison for the slightly more defensively-oriented Blundell. Still, shortly thereafter, it was hearts in mouths time, as a Reading shot drew a Lindahl save that was about as convincing as most of her evening’s performance had been. Eriksson got to the pinball first, but shanked her clearance off her own goalkeeper. Reading were pressing for the equalizer, and forcing mistakes. Dunn conceded a free kick after losing possession, but fortunately this time, Lindahl punched well, then produced a great block with just minutes left to keep Chelsea in the lead after a beautiful through ball exposed the back line.
The panic stations took a brief pause as the clock struck 90 and three additional minutes were announced, but Chelsea continued to struggle to get a hold of the ball and properly clear their lines. The traveling support tried their best, as the Blues grew increasingly desperate for the final whistle. And they almost made it after Lindahl gathered the ball on a sweet flick from Reading goalscorer Allen. But then, Eriksson picked up a booking for a foul, and from the resulting free kick she only found the back of her own net as she attempted to clear for a corner.
Heartbreak at the end, with no time left to change the final 2-2 scoreline.
Huge bad luck for Chelsea as Magdalena Eriksson heads into her own net. Reading level it late. 2-2. pic.twitter.com/k9YhBaWLw8— Kieran Theivam (@KiersTheivam) November 12, 2017
Woman of the Match: Reading’s organization and press. Chelsea weren’t at their best, but RWFC’s teamwork and energy stole the show.
And so, Chelsea not only concede their first two goals but drop their first points of the WSL season, and though there are no qualms about whether Reading deserved to take something from the match, the own goal was a brutal way to finish the game. Manchester City won 4-0 against Bristol City in the meantime to remain a perfect five wins from five, which means the Ladies will fall to second for the first time this season.