FAWSL 2021/22 Preview: Reading

The 2020/21 FA Women’s Super League kicks off on the weekend of the 3rd – 5th September. D2B is here to preview all twelve teams in the title race and assess their chances. We’re going back to an alphabetical approach this year and continue with perennial mid-tablers Reading, who slipped into the bottom half of the standings last season, the first time that’s happened since 2017…

Young Reading forward Emma Harries looks forward to her second WSL season…

Full Name: Reading Football Club Women

Nickname(s): The Royals, RFCW

Founded: 2006

Ground: Select Car Leasing Stadium (24,161 capacity)

Last Season, FAWSL: 7th Place

WSL Pedigree / Club History

The Royals won the WSL2 title in 2015.

Their introduction to the Super League after promotion was far tougher going and they only managed to win one of their sixteen fixtures.

They proved to be fast learners, though, finishing fourth the following year and racking up nine victories.

Since then Reading has punched their weight in the division, even with more Premier League-backed clubs arriving. The win-rate has eroded slightly in the last couple of seasons, but the Royals remain hard to beat and can still surprise any title contenders who don’t bring their ‘A’ game.

Achievement on the pitch has led to good backing from their ownership group. They might not have the massive budgets but Reading was the first WSL team to move all of their women’s home fixtures to the club’s main stadium, plus they’re now in their state-of-the-art training facility at Bearwood.

“It has been a big slogan – ‘One Reading’. That’s what we feel like now – we feel as one. We share the training ground and the stadium with the men and the Academy. Having that atmosphere around where it is so professional… it makes you up your game! It just feels perfect. And when it comes to playing in the town… as the players know, and I think the fans know in themselves, they do create an amazing atmosphere. [W]e’re looking forward to getting more people in and showing what we can do.”

Rachel Rowe, Midfielder, Reading FC, via readingfc.co.uk

Last Season

The Royals were the draw specialists last season (9), but remaining hard to beat was at the cost of victories – Brighton and Everton got three and four more respectively and that ended up dropping Kelly Chambers’ side into the bottom half of the table – not disastrous of course, but they won’t want to keep heading in that direction.

They were wholly unpredictable. They held Arsenal and Manchester City to draws at the Madejski and beat Manchester United at Leigh Sports Village. But they inexplicably got hammered (yes, by West Ham) 5-0 and managed to end up on the wrong end of a 3-2 defeat at Bristol after taking an early lead.

It’s certain that they will want to improve on the two home wins they managed.

Manager

Manager Kelly Chambers: Approaching ten years guiding the Reading Women and Girls set-up…

“The biggest thing for us when we were recruiting was looking for players who are going to fit our style of play. Regardless of name, it was about who’s got that and what experience do they have? Pre-season has gone really well, the biggest thing for us has been moving into Bearwood Park and that’s really raised the level of professionalism. The biggest thing for me was the physical side of the girls, making sure they’re physically ready for this league, because year on year it gets tougher – it gets faster and we’ve got to be able to compete with that first and foremost, and then let the football do the talking.”

Kelly Chambers, Manager, Reading FC, via readingfc.co.uk

Kelly Chambers began her second spell at the helm in 2015, but has been Director of Women’s and Girls’ Football with the club since her retirement from playing in 2012.

She builds combative teams on more limited resources than many of her peers, and has steered the club to several top half finishes – the best being a 4th place in the 2017/18 campaign.

She’s also been able to convince a fair-few living legends of the women’s game to give life a go just off the M4, including Fara Williams, Jessica Fishlock and, for this season, Natasha Dowie.

Summer Recruitment

Deanne Rose – An exciting and creative young player seen here helping Canada to win gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

A modest six new players will be donning the blue and white hoops, but manager Chambers has gone for experience up front with Natasha Dowie and Justine Vanhaevermaet coming in.

Dowie, now 33-years old, has played all over the planet with a dozen clubs and had a very decent scoring return with pretty much all of them. She signed from AC Milan where she netted 12 times in 21 league appearances. She’s had several seasons with Australian W-League side Melborune Victory scoring 35 goals and winning the league’s Golden Boot in 2018/19. It’s been a while since she played WSL, though.

A short spell with the Doncaster Belles was preceded by a very fruitful period at Liverpool where she was part of the squad that secured back-to-back league titles knocking in a very impressive 46 goals in 67 appearances. That could be just the kind of positive, professional influence a young breakthrough forward like Emma Harries could thrive with.

While Dowie is a known quantity, Vanhaevermaet feels more of a gamble. Now 29, the Belgian hasn’t been prolific anywhere. She does have over 100 senior appearances behind her, though, and 10 caps for her country.

So, old heads up front; younger engines in midfield – both 22-year old engines, in fact. Chloe Peplow has 64 senior appearances to her name starring for Birmingham City, Brighton and, most recently, Tottenham Hotspur. However, she only got 155 minutes at Spurs last season.

Canadian winger Deanne Rose (pictured) has arrived with an Olympic gold medal from the Tokyo games, scoring one her side’s spot kicks in a crazy penalty shoot-out that neither Canada nor Sweden seemed that keen to win. Rose is one the most exciting signings across the League this off-season and will bring pace and flair to Reading’s attack. She has 57 international caps, which isn’t bad for someone who’s just got out of Florida University.

Defenders Gemma Evans and Faye Bryson complete the set but Royals supporters may want to reserve judgement until they see them in Kelly Chambers’ system. At Bristol City they were part of a backline that conceded over three goals per game.

Who’s moved on?

Some good midfielders, sadly.  If there’s been a signature characteristic of Reading teams in the WSL over the last few years, it’s been the great blend of midfielders that Chambers has put together – hardworking, competitive and creative.

Granted, England’s most capped player of all time, Fara Williams, has retired, but the Royals also had to say goodbye to Jess Fishlock who was on loan from US franchise OL Reign, and is tearing the NWSL up even at 34-years old. Interestingly, Fishlock is now playing more as a ‘ten’ for the Reign which is pretty much what Chambers did with an ageing Williams.

Another Welsh box-to-boxer Angharad James has gone over to the USA, signing for the North Carolina Courage. She goes with 164 league appearances in the Super League and played every minute of every game last season.

Forward Danielle Carter has opted for Brighton and Hove Albion, while ever-present centre half Molly Bartrip has signed for Spurs. Another defender, full back Kristine Leine headed home to her native Norway to join Rosenborg.

Key Players

Natasha Harding (left) goes toe-to-toe with United’s Leah Galton – a match-up you might see tonight on Sky TV…

It doesn’t sound very interesting when one cites versatility in a key player, but that’s some of what Welsh international Natasha Harding offers. She can pretty much play anywhere on the pitch and at a very high level.

At 32 she also brings a huge amount of know-how to proceedings having played over 100 WSL matches, plus the 86 caps she has for Wales. Harding also epitomises the work rate of Chambers’ Reading sides, and adds a bit of Welsh fire for good measure. She just might need the new youngsters to do a bit more of her running for her.

After just one season with the Royals, tough-tackling Emma Mitchell has already become an important senior player. A winner of the WSL title with Arsenal in 2018/19 Mitchell is best known as a marauding left-back but can actually play anywhere across the back-line, and did exactly that for Chambers’ side last year.

Still only 28, it looks like she’s developed the tactical and organisational elements of her game to go with that ‘wand’ at the end of her left leg.

Opening Day

Reading visit Manchester United on Friday 3rd September, the opening night of the season. The teams had a win each in the 2020/21 WSL campaign.

Prospects for 2021/22

Consistency was a bit of an issue for Reading last season. They need to turn a couple more draws into wins, maintain that ability to grind out the odd shock result against a title contender, and stop losing the following game against a side coming into it bang out of form.

All sounds easy, right? But here at D2B, well we’re not wholly convinced that the current Reading squad is as going to be as good as the last few seasons.

Looking at the league, objectively, the prospective top five seems pretty locked in. Reading are going to need to be sensational from the off and they have three of the bookies’ top five in the opening four weeks of the campaign, including Arsenal who are a little bit further ahead of other teams in terms of competitive match fitness, due to Champions League prep.

If the Royals can get a few points in the bag during the opening weeks they may be use that momentum to push on, but really it’s looking like a battle for sixth with several other clubs that look much of a muchness…

Transfer Summary

Ins

  • Natasha Dowie (Forward)
  • Gemma Evans (Defender)
  • Faye Bryson (Defender)
  • Chloe Peplow (Midfielder)
  • Deanne Rose (Midfielder)
  • Justine Vanhaevermaet (Forward)

Outs

  • Jess Fishlock – loan return (Midfielder)
  • Angharad James (Midfielder)
  • Fara Williams – retired (Midfielder)
  • Lauren Bruton (Midfielder)
  • Erin Nayler (Goalkeeper)
  • Silvana Flores (Midfielder)
  • Molly Childerhouse (Midfielder)
  • Kristine Leine (Defender)
  • Danielle Carter (Forward)
  • Molly Bartrip (Defender)

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