Leicester City 2-1 Reading (Women’s Super League)
A touch of déjà vu? It went to the wire in late January as I watched Reading beat Leicester City on penalties in the FA Cup at the Pirelli Stadium… It goes to the wire in early April too… As the Foxes ease their relegation worries with a massive victory that keeps the battle at the foot of the WSL table well and truly alive.
I’m back having watched these two go at it in what was a thrilling game over 120 minutes and more, decided after Grace Maloney saved Carrie Jones spot kick to send the Royals through in a shootout, this time it’s points on offer, not prizes, but even more so important as Leicester, bottom with seven points play catch up on Reading in tenth with eleven, Brighton in eleventh with nine.
I’ve done the Sunday dog meet, had a bit of breakfast and glazed over a few emails whilst sipping tea, out the door for 1pm I’m heading down the A46 in sunshine onto the A6 and through Leicester city centre, quiet roads passing the back end of High Cross Shopping Centre before spotting a 600 year old Roman Gate on Oxford Street, I’ve driven past several times and never even previously noticed it was there.
Past the home of Leicester Tigers Rugby Club I’m down the Welford Road cutting behind Morrisons and the Odeon Cinema onto Raw Dykes Road parking up opposite the King Power Stadium little before 2pm.
My third visit of the season the sun is out, bright skies but quiet outside, families with children, mostly young girls, I’m contemplating having a look around the club shop but opt for the turnstile where my bag is searched by a steward ahead of scanning my mobile phone at an unattended doorway. Luckily the buzzer lights green and I’m pushing through the barriers without problem.
Inside the concourse I head straight for the toilets where I notice Leicester City logoed soap dispensers, washing my hands (of course) before I approach the kiosk where I’m given the eye by a keen attendee… He’s already looked me up as his next potential customer, I’m not hungry after my breakfast, and I’m all tea’d up from earlier… But I can’t back out now… I can’t let him down.. He asks me what I want, to my reply ‘A Bovril will do’.
£3.05 it costs as I stare at a mural of Claudio Ranieri whilst paying contactless on the worldpay card machine, take my paper cup and head up the stairs where a steward points me to my seat (I know where I’m going thanks mate).
From the top row ‘MM’ I get a panoramic view of the girls on the pitch, bright green surface emblazoned by the spring sunshine, nobody really near me as I fill out my notes, blue seats opposite bear the name ‘Leicester City’ as I get a WhatsApp message to be told Brendan Rodgers has been sacked.
Hardly a surprise as I sip my Bovril, I’m disgusted to find it’s luke-warm, not very hot at all… A pathetic attempt at warming the cockles on a chilly day beneath the blue partially cloudy skies. I won’t be having that here again!
The stand I’m in is half full, the rest of the stadium completely empty, but the atmosphere is good as fans wave flags ahead of kick off.
Leicester, as they did despite defeat in the cup match, start bright and look the better team, they play with a little more direction, a bit more of a game plan, I’m surprised they’re still bottom of the league as Willie Kirk’s girls have clear identity in what they do, getting it wide, quickly, but playing some neat interchanging stuff at times. I don’t see that from Reading as much, although they do win a number of corners early doors, which suggest they might have a bit more physique and power than their hosts.
Their best effort from a free kick crossed to the back post which is headed goalwards by Charlie Wellings but Janina Leitzig is alert, diving to her left to push the ball behind.
Leicester for their quality in possession, get reward on twenty as Courtney Nevin crosses from the left, Sam Tierney late arriving, she places the ball on the full volley, side footed into the corner to put her side ‘deservedly’ one up.
Five minutes extra has gone up on the board, the first half has been littered with players going down injured, it’s not been great viewing, often slightly obstructed by a little girl waving a flag in front of me, but Reading are coming forward, Rachel Rowe was lying on the floor in pain ten seconds ago… Now she’s up, crossing low from the left and the ball falls to Wellings, inside the area, she’s smashed it as hard as she can to level things up at the break.
That cues an exodus to the khazi’s as I’m sat flicking between the scores elsewhere at half time, the second half starting again in sunshine, it’s a lovely day, some players have their hands over their eyes to see properly against the glaring light, the second half starts and it’s as stop start as the first, frustrating as more players drop to their knees to seek medical attention.
Finally the play livens up as Leicester break at pace, Cain racing down the left crosses to the back post where Tierney arrives late (again), she’s struck low and the feet of Maloney saves the Royals.
Carrie Jones then has two sniffs as she shoots straight at the keeper and fires the rebound goalward before a desperate defender clears, the resulting corner see’s carnage before the goalkeeper goes down injured, I’m then asked by a steward ‘why am I taking notes’ as he takes my name and calls for back up, I’m sweating with the thought of ejection as play is halted, I’m sitting on the back row on my own with the binoculars out, I hope they don’t think I’m a sex pest, I presume I get the all clear as thankfully, the steward never returns.
More chances go begging for Leicester as Siemsen hits a post, it all looks to be heading to another draw at ninety minutes, but due to the number of injuries the board is up and twelve extras are added to everyone’s gasp, that suits Leicester however as Tierney gets into the box, she finds Cain who lays up Jones to smash hard and low, a winner that provides a massive three points, there’s players on the floor hugging with some girls running off in all directions hands in the air, the fans waving flags are singing ‘we are staying up’ there’s a good ten minutes left but Leicester see it out, the game lasting a good 115 minutes, only five short of the cup match which went all the way in Jan.
Credit Carrie Jones who’s costly penalty miss was the deciding factor as Leicester exited the FA Cup, I’m certain she’ll happily concede that for waking up knowing her last minute winning goal gave the Foxes three much needed points in the relegation fight.
Sam Tierney like a female Frank Lampard, every time I see her I can’t fail to be impressed by her timely runs from deep to inside the box, she had a hand in both goals and might have even contributed to more, other players impressing included Courtney Nevin from left back and goalkeeper Janina Leitzig who’s handling was exceptional, Reading had a good eleven or twelve corners and she claimed a large proportion of those to take the pressure off.
For the Royals, their own goalkeeper Grace Maloney, not for the first time beneath my eyes, was their best player on the day, Charlie Wellings made some good runs and Amalie Eikelaand found some pockets, but largely from them, it was very disappointing.
The win for Leicester lifts them off the bottom of the WSL table, a point above Brighton who do have two games in hand (they play Leicester on the last game of the season), but more importantly they are now only a point behind Reading, and on that evidence they are far from out of the proverbial themselves.
With Tottenham Hotspur also down there on twelve points, it could be a four-way tussle with only one facing the drop, the last five matches now pivotal to seeing who survives.
Leicester City: Janina Leitzig, Courtney Nevin, Sam Tierney, CJ Bott, Aileen Whelan, Sophie Howard, Carrie Jones (Missy Goodwin 90), Remy Siemsen (Jessica Sigsworth 82), Hannah Cain (Jo Green 90), Ash Plumptre, Ruby Mace.
Reading: Grace Maloney, Faye Bryson, Emma Mukandi, Charlie Wellings (Lauren Wade 90), Amalie Eikeland, Emma Harries (Justine Vanhaevermaet 70), Brooke Hendrix (Gemma Evans 77), Jade Moore, Rachel Rowe, Lily Woodham, Sanne Troelsgaard.
3pm Kick Off. Sunday 2nd April 2023, Leicester City Stadium, Leicester (att 1,500)