Ladies report: Chelsea 3 Reading 2
news Sun 30 Oct 2016
Two goals from Eniola Aluko helped Chelsea Ladies to a victory which secures second place and a spot in next season's Women's Champions League.
The Blues took the lead through Aluko's opportunistic finish from inside the six-yard box and it looked as if a comfortable second half was in store when Ana Borges doubled our advantage 10 minutes after the interval.
However, Reading pulled one back from the penalty spot through Lauren Bruton and it is to Chelsea's credit that the players regrouped to quickly restore our advantage, with Aluko once again finishing smartly from close range.
There was also a return to action for Fran Kirby after five months out through injury and the striker looked lively in her half-hour on the pitch, although a couple of missed chances almost came back to haunt us when Melissa Fletcher netted late on to set up a tense finale.
Over a month had passed since our last outing in the WSL, since when we faced a pair of Women's Champions League matches against Wolfsburg. The second of those, in Germany, featured a fine performance in a 1-1 draw against last season's finalists, and it came as little surprise when Emma Hayes named a virtually unchanged line-up.
Indeed, the only switch was enforced as Gilly Flaherty missed out through injury and Claire Rafferty was added to the starting 11, with Millie Bright moving to centre-back. So, once again it was a 4-4-2 system featuring Karen Carney in central midfield and a front pairing of Ji So-Yun and Aluko.
It was an uncharacteristically slow start by the Blues and the visitors will feel they should have taken the lead inside the first five minutes when Emma Follis nicked the ball away from Niamh Fahey close to the touchline and ran through on goal, only for Hedvig Lindahl to palm the ball away low to her left.
Reading continued to threaten in the early stages, but Chelsea began to play our way into the game and it was just past the 15-minute mark that our first chance arrived. Carney was the provider, drifting a peach of a ball onto the head of Ji inside the box, but the South Korean just couldn't get enough power or direction on her effort to sent it past Mary Earps.
The Royals wouldn't be so lucky from our next header, however. A corner-kick from Carney was met powerfully by Millie Bright at the back post and Aluko was perfectly placed inside the six-yard box to flick a header beyond Earps before the keeper could react.
Chelsea's improvement seemed to coincide with Ji dropping deeper, and the South Korean continued to pull the strings as we took control of the remainder of the half and Aluko had another two efforts from the edge of the box which she would have expected to fire on target.
There was a reminder of the threat posed from Reading, particularly at set-pieces, when captain Kirsty McGee forced a fine save from Lindahl to keep the ball from creeping in to the bottom right-hand corner of the goal. However, Chelsea should have gone into the half-time break with a 2-0 lead as Ji found Carney completely unmarked on the penalty spot. The former Birmingham player got a clean header at goal, but it was straight at Earps.
The visiting keeper was even more grateful a couple of minutes later when intricate play between Ji and Carney on the edge of the box saw the former slip the ball through a defender's legs to send Aluko in on goal. Unfortunately the finish didn't match the build-up as our top scorer this season side-footed her shot just wide.
There was no change in personnel or, indeed, approach from either side after the break and the crucial second goal wasn't long in arriving. The quality of the build-up was excellent once again, culminating in Carney playing a cushioned pass to split the Reading rearguard and send Borges in on goal. Although Earps did well to delay her progress, the Portuguese winger was able to turn the ball home at the second attempt to get the goal her enterprising performance deserved.
Soon after came a change which went down well with both sets of supporters as Kirby made her long-awaited comeback from injury against her former side – but the visiting fans were cheering again soon after when Bruton was fouled in the box before stepping up to convert the penalty herself.
Reading's joy proved to be short-lived, though, as just three minutes later the two-goal cushion was restored. Aluko was the scorer once again and it was a case of being in the right place at the right time once again as she slotted home from close range after Ji had volleyed a corner into her path in the six-yard box.
Chelsea's No9 soon made way for Beth England, who came close to adding a fourth for the Blues when she was sent clear by a slide-rule pass by Ji in behind the Reading defence. This time, however, Earps was on hand to pull off a fine save to deny the substitute.
There were chances, too, for Kirby, but she was twice denied by Earps and also sent a shot narrowly wide, and when Fletcher scored late on we were left hanging on for the final moments of stoppage time.
The win secures a top-two finish for a third straight season and we'll be taking on Europe's elite once again next autumn.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Lindahl; Blundell (Kirby 60), Fahey, Bright, C Rafferty; Davison (Bailey 77), Chapman (c), Carney, Borges; Ji, Aluko (England 73)
Unused subs Spencer, Spence
Scorers Aluko 19, 68, Borges 55
Reading: Earps, Jane, Scott, Bartrip (Hines 85), McGee (c), Follis, Allen, Bruton, Stobbs, Fletcher, Rowe
Unused subs Moloney, Boho-Sayo, Estcourt, Ward
Scorer Bruton (pen) 65, Fletcher 90+3