Once in a while a game of football tears itself free of the shackles of league positions, form guides and expected goals to unravel in a glorious narrative of attacking football. The Barclays WSL encounter between Reading and Liverpool at the Select Car Leasing on Thursday night was one of those rare occasions as two struggling sides shared six goals in a display which made the Harlem Globe Trotters look like Catenaccio.
It would have been easy to expect a cagey match between two teams who have won just two WSL matches between them this season and who would have been desperate to put daylight between themselves and bottom-markers Leicester City.
But instead we got a rollercoaster ride of a match with plenty of ambitious endeavour. Melissa Lawley – imperious down the left flank all night for Liverpool – gave early notice of what was to unfold, marauding down the wing and feeding ex-Royal Rachel Furness who saw her goal-bound shot brilliantly blocked by Deanna Cooper. In reply, a free-kick to the near-post was stabbed wide by Amalie Eikeland but the visitors opened the scoring just after the quarter hour mark.
Lawley it was who fed Katie Stengel – whose brace against Chelsea on the opening day secured The Reds only three-point haul thus far – and a neat glancing header found the bottom corner. Furness nodded a free-kick wide of goal and the inspirational Natasha Dowie spun a Liverpool challenge to hit a rather disappointing effort straight at Eartha Cumings in goal for the visitors.
A quality move involving Lily Woodham and Justine Vanhaevermaet ended with the latter dinking a neat ball into the box which just evaded Dowie before Stengel cut in to the Reading box and saw a fierce shot deflected behind. The home side however were level deep in first half injury time. A free-kick from the right hand side was headed away by a Liverpool player as far as Tia Primmer on the edge of the box and the teenager hit an instinctive first-time attempt which looped beyond Cumings.
Liverpool came out strongly in the second period, with Emma Kovisto and Lawley threatening to reclaim the lead but Reading came roaring back. Cumings spilled a cross from Dowie beyond Wellings and Rachel Rowe who couldn’t squeeze the loose ball home. Then Vanhaevermaet and Primmer linked up gloriously for Wellings to fire straight at the Liverpool ‘keeper.
Reading had the lead just after the hour – Dowie tapping home after her initial header from a deep free-kick had come back off the post – but Liverpool immediately responded with a double substitution which would turn the game back in their favour as Megan Campbell and Rhiannon Roberts were introduced.
Within ten minutes of Reading taking the lead they found themselves behind. Stengel had the freedom of the county to head home Campbell’s cross and then when Lawley stood up a tasty centre Roberts was there to power home with her forehead through the despairing attempted grasp of Grace Moloney, in for the suspended Jacqueline Burns.
The Republic of Ireland goalkeeper kept Reading in it with a point-blank block from Stengel after another delightful ball into the box by Campbell and as the Royals poured forward in response they were rewarded when Rachel Rowe’s free-kick was recycled at the far post by Eikeland for substitute Sanne Troelsgaard to bundle home.
The enthusiastic crowd gathered on a chilly night roared their approval throughout and their appreciation was demonstrated in injury time when Welsh international Woodham limped off to huge applause. She had given it her all on the night. As had each and every one of her colleagues and peers on both sides.