Lauren James in action against Reading.

Reading Women 1 United Women 1

Sunday 02 February 2020 16:30

Lauren James scored her sixth WSL goal of the campaign, as Manchester United Women battled to a 1-1 draw with Reading in what was an eventful afternoon at Adams Park.

James gave the Reds a first-half lead with a well-struck finish, while Amy Turner had a goal chalked off for offside.

Mary Earps produced a fine save to deny Fara Williams from the penalty spot after the interval, but the keeper wasn’t able to stop the England veteran a second time, as the Royals were awarded another spot kick for a Katie Zelem handball in the closing stages, which meant that the points were shared.

After a narrow defeat to Chelsea in the semi-finals of the Continental League Cup in midweek, Casey Stoney made two changes to her starting XI. Martha Harris replaced Abbie McManus in defence, while Jane Ross came in for Lizzie Arnot.

With United’s visit to Prenton Park to face Liverpool postponed earlier in the year due to a waterlogged pitch, this was the Reds’ first away match of 2020, and we began the game eager to emulate the 2-0 result at Leigh Sports Village from earlier in the campaign, with strikes from Kirsty Hanson and Jess Sigsworth securing victory.

Lauren James celebrates giving United the lead on the half-hour mark.

Following a fairly even opening five minutes to the contest, United soon began to press the Royals into their own half and we soon won the first corner of the game. Although the Royals were able to clear the danger from the set-piece, they soon had to deal with another as the referee penalised Williams for a handball. 

Zelem again whipped in a dangerous ball, but no United player could get a vital touch as Reading were just about able to clear their lines in a scramble for possession.

United soon won a flurry of corners. The first saw James have a shot at the far post deflected behind and the second was met by Millie Turner at the far post, but her shot was awfully close to the head of Harding and the referee blew for a free-kick to the visitors.

There was a brief stoppage in play as Mary Earps required treatment after going down unwell, but our keeper was able to continue.

And on the half-hour mark, Stoney's side hit the front. A free-kick taken by Earps was hooked by Kirstine Leine straight into the path of James, who punished the Royals by driving forward and confidently producing a low finish into the bottom-right corner.

The Reds were eager to get a quick-fire second. James released Zelem down the left flank and picked out Groenen, who had made a bursting run into the 18-yard box. The Dutch international’s cross, however, couldn’t find Sigsworth and the ball was grabbed gratefully by Laws.

Kelly Chambers’s side did try to hit United on the counter-attack as the half-time interval approached. Williams tried to slip through Rachel Rowe, but great defending by Harris and Turner ensured that the attack was snuffed out.

United then had the ball in the back of the net, as a long-range free-kick from Zelem was headed home by Turner, but the celebrations were very swiftly cut short as the flag was raised for an offside against the defender.

Mary Earps produces a fine save to deny Fara Williams from the penalty spot.

Following the half-time break, United made an early foray forward which was almost rewarded with a goal as James whipped in an inviting cross from the left, which somehow evaded several Red shirts that had gathered in the box and went out for a Reading throw in.

On the hour mark, James won a free-kick in a promising position after being fouled by Jade Moore. Zelem was the player given the responsibility to take it, but her set-piece was curled onto the roof of the net.

Five minutes later, however, the Royals were awarded a penalty from a corner as Remi Allen was adjudged to have been fouled by Turner, who was subsequently booked. Williams was given the responsibility, but Earps produced a fantastic dive to her right to keep United in front.

Fara Williams converts her second penalty to restore parity.
With 15 minutes to play, United had a golden opportunity to wrap up the points, as Groenen produced an incisive pass to James, but her effort was cleared by the legs of Laws.

As the game entered the closing stages, the hosts won a free-kick on the edge of the area as the referee believed the ball was handled by James. One of United’s coaching staff was booked for voicing their displeasure at the decision. 

The set-piece hit Zelem who was part of the United wall, but it was felt that our skipper had got an illegal touch to it and the referee awarded another penalty to the hosts. This time Earps could do nothing to stop it, as Williams fired the ball into the top corner to restore parity with 10 minutes to go.

With time running out, Stoney brought on two attacking players. Rebecca May came on for her first-team debut and Arnot replaced Sigsworth, as the Reds pushed for a last-gasp winner. 

Reading could have won it themselves in the dying embers of stoppage time. A United clearance fell to Williams who hit a ferocious strike from range, but it was well caught by Earps, which was the last action of the match, as the Reds had to settle for a draw on the road.
This result was United's first draw in the WSL this season.

United: Earps; Harris, A. Turner, M. Turner, Smith; Ladd, Zelem (c), Groenen; James, Ross (May 85), Sigsworth (Arnot 86).

Subs not used: Mikalsen, Okvist, Palmer.

Scorers: James 30 | Williams pen. 80

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