Fran Kirby scored twice as Chelsea Women made it 10 wins in a row to seal our spot in the semi-finals of the Continental Tyres League Cup.
We'd met the Royals just over a month ago in the WSL, when only Ji So-Yun's 50th for the club had separated the sides, but on this occasion it was a dominant and clinical display from the Blues. Kirby's early effort put us in the ascendancy and a first-ever Chelsea goal from Anita Asante doubled our advantage shortly before the interval.
Although Reading briefly rallied after the break, Kirby fired home her second of the game late on to make the victory secure, and Ali Riley doubled her tally for the club with a left-footed strike which put the exclamation mark on the end of a fine performance. Credit, too, should go to our defence for making it 12 straight clean sheets.
Emma Hayes made six changes to her starting XI from the win over Everton on Sunday, with one eye on our huge meeting with Arsenal this weekend. Carly Telford came in for Hedvig Lindahl between the sticks, with a new pair of full-backs brought in as both Jess Carter and Deanna Cooper were selected to start. Millie Bright, taking on the captain's armband, and Magda Eriksson, on her 50th appearance for the Blues, retained their place in the side from the weekend, as did Sophie Ingle, Erin Cuthbert and Bethany England. Also brought into the side were Asante, Ali Riley and Kirby, who was making her first start since facing West Ham at the beginning of November.
The Blues No14 wasted no time at all leaving her mark on this contest against her former club, scoring the opener in the third minute. Cuthbert and Ingle were involved in the build-up, with the latter playing the ball across the box as she was taken out by a Reading defender, which may well have resulted in a penalty anyway, and there was Super Fran at the back stick to slot home with the minimum of fuss.
Despite her recent absence, Kirby was clearly full of confidence and fitness was of no concern as she ran at the Royals defence, twisting them one way and then the other before letting rip with a shot that was deflected through to Grace Moloney for a comfortable save. Overall, however, the early goal had given us the luxury of being patient in attack, and we were able to choose when to get at the Reading rearguard and when to slow down the pace of the game.
After an almighty collision between Bright and Brooke Chaplen, which had the crowd belting out an ironic rendition of their popular 'Always look on the bright side of life' chant, the Blues burst forward in numbers and Kirby teed up England for a vicious, swerving strike from just inside the box which forced a smart stop from Moloney.
There was very little coming back the other way, although Rachel Furness was unfortunate not to direct a free header from a corner kick on target rather than just past the post, and it came as little surprise when our patient build-up paid off with a second goal of the half. The identity of our scorer did, however, catch most inside Kingsmeadow off guard as Asante was slipped through and she slotted a side-footed finish past the keeper and into the back of the net via the far post. The reaction of her team-mates on the pitch, along with those sat in the directors' box, showed the esteem in which she is held at the football club.
If the Blues had expected to cruise through the second half and into the semi-finals, Reading had other ideas and the visitors started strongly after the break, having not been the usual energetic and aggressive side we have become accustomed to over the past few years. Chaplen had battled away gamely without much reward in the first half, but she had a great opportunity to get the Royals back in the game when a cross found her unmarked. Fortunately for the Blues, she sent her header wide of the target.
That moment was a reminder of the threat Reading pose and Hayes' side responded by taking control of game once again, dominating possession in the middle of the park and getting back to creating a steady stream of chances. One of them fell to Ingle, who lashed a left-footed shot over from the edge of the box, but Kirby had an even clearer sight at goal as she was sent one-on-one with Moloney, only to send her effort past the far post.
The reigning PFA and FWA Player of the Year doesn't usually spurn such clear-cut chances, and so it proved in the closing minutes of the game as she rounded off the scoring. Ji, who had not long come off the bench, laid the ball off to Kirby and a dummy was enough to buy her a yard of space which she utilised to good effect, smashing a low finish past Moloney and into the far corner.
Goalscorer quickly turned provider, running clear down the right flank and playing the ball across to Riley for a drilled left-footed strike which left the keeper flat-footed. A comprehensive victory was secured and we can now look ahead to a last-four tie early next month.
The draw for the semi-finals takes place at half-time of Sheffield United's game against Queens Park Rangers on Saturday at Bramall Lane, which will host the final on Saturday 23 February. Then attention turns to our next outing in the WSL – and it doesn't get much bigger than a trip to Arsenal. Our visit to the league leaders takes place on Sunday at 12.30pm and fans not making the trip to Borehamwood can watch the game live on BT Sport.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Telford; Carter, Bright (c), Eriksson, Cooper; Ingle, Asante; England (Bachmann 78), Cuthbert (Ji 80), Riley; Kirby
Unused subs Lindahl, Blundell, Carney, Engman, Andersson
Scorers Kirby 3, 87, Asante 37, Riley 90
Reading Moloney, Pacheco, Williams, Bartrip, Furness, Allen, Bruton (Jane 72), Harding (c), Moore (Potter 65), Chaplen, Woodham (Farrow 74)
Unused subs Pearce, Davison, Estcourt, Kite
Referee Abigail Marriott