Reading FC Women were thrashed 4-0 by a red-hot Manchester United team watched by a record crowd at Leigh Sports Village.
A double by debutant, Maya Le Tissier, a spot kick by Katie Zelem and a close-range header by Alessia Russo – all scored in the first-half – ensured it was an opening day to forget for the Royals in front of the crowd of 5,315.
The punters flocked to Leigh to see a home side containing three European champion Lionesses in Russo, Ella Toone and former Royal, Mary Earps, and they didn’t disappoint with Russo a commanding presence up front, Toone scheming effectively in the middle and Earps barely getting her gloves dirty.
Spanish duo, Ona Batlle and Lucía García, were a menace on the right-hand side, Katie Zelem controlled the midfield and Le Tissier was hugely assured in defence, demonstrating why she is widely tipped to win a senior cap for England sooner rather than later.
The game got off to the worst possible start for Reading FC Women as Zelem’s driven corner was met by Le Tissier’s knee at the front post with the ball looping over Grace Moloney in the fourth minute. A fortuitous start but Reading responded well with a low cross from Deanne Rose striking Hannah Blundell’s hand but the referee deemed it unintentional despite the protests.
Reading, and particularly Rose, were finding space further up the field despite the hosts’ dominance but were lacking quality in the final third to make it count. No such problem for Manchester United who were then awarded a penalty in the 13th minute as Moloney was adjudged to have brought down Russo illegally after Toone’s defence-splitting pass. The decision was debatable with Moloney appearing to have had a good case for getting fingers to the ball but Zelem took advantage drilling the ball firmly into the right-hand corner of the net.
The Royals were dealt a huge blow in the 23rd minute when the lively Rose appeared to trip on the turf and had to limp off the field. Whilst down to 10 players, United won a corner and compounded Reading’s misery as Le Tissier met Zelem’s excellent delivery with a cushioned header into the corner of Moloney’s net.
Reading almost profited from their first corner of the game moments later with Rachel Rowe’s inswinger making Earps sweat under pressure from a few bodies but United were able to clear their lines. The Royals were grateful for Gemma Evans’s and Lily Woodham’s interventions after the latter nipped in front of García to stop a certain goal and Evans blocking Toone’s subsequent shot off the line.
United weren’t to be denied for much longer with Russo heading in from close-range in the 35th-minute after an inch-perfect cross from Batlle from the right. Five minutes later, García had a one-on-one with Moloney with the Irish keeper making a superb save from the Spaniard’s half-volley.
Shortly after half-time, Russo should have made it five, heading wide under pressure from Reading captain, Emma Mukandi, with an open goal gaping after Moloney’s save from Leah Galton resulted in the ball soaring into the air.
After this, there was little in the way of goalmouth action as the hosts took their foot off the gas and rung the changes with the game descending into the feel of a pre-season friendly.
Reading applied themselves throughout in a game they would have been expected to lose and ultimately, paid the price for a sluggish start which United ruthlessly exploited, demonstrating the gulf in class between the two sides.