Reading save the best ‘til last but Thomas’ winner is too little, too late
READING bowed out of the Premier Division on a winning note at Slough thanks to a first-half goal from their captain, Emma Thomas.
It was their first Investec Premier League win of the season; in fact their first since beating University of Birmingham in February of last year.
The match at Upton Court Park highlighted why both these Berkshire sides have struggled this term, with neither managing to turn their opportunities into goals.
Third-bottom Slough failed to take advantage of nine penalty corners and their season’s goal tally of 15 is even two fewer than their relegated rivals.
“This is something we certainly need to improve on next season,” admitted Slough skipper Kat McGonigle. “We were not able to score as many goals as we should have done.”
The same remarks were echoed from the opposing camp.
Thomas’ goal was her fifth of the season, making her Reading’s leading scorer. Shortage of firepower has cost them dear, while in defence they have not been helped by a lack of experience and perhaps maturity, especially when trying to relieve pressure on their goal and turning defence into attack.
But in recent weeks the Blues have certainly benefitted from having experienced Amy Gibson in goal, as she excels in directing operations inside her own circle and is never short of a word or three. The Scot had another excellent game on Saturday.
But with Gibson sidelined through injury for most of the season, Mila Welch was between the posts. Even at the tender age of 16, she is not short of talent and it would be wrong to criticise her, but as yet she is unable to match what Gibson brings to the team.
Much the same could be said of several others in Mike Irving’s squad, who was forced to include teenagers to fill the void left by the departure of international stars Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh and Alex Danson, followed this year by Susie Gilbert.
Yet, Reading can be encouraged by their youngsters and they certainly shaping as a team to look out for in the near future.
Thomas commented: “We improved during the season and the second half was far better than the first.
“I am sure there is more to come from this squad, but we do need to do some recruiting. The plan is to bounce straight back as soon we can.”
The match was the last for team manager Liz Spencer, who is planning to return to umpiring in the South League.
She said: “It has been a disappointing season on the whole, but we have never been a walkover. I think if you ask any team we’ve played, they would say they have not had an easy game against us.
“Our girls battled hard every week and that's why I am proud of them. In many of the games we lost, we were only a goal behind. It was just a pity that we couldn’t score more goals ourselves.”
Like Conferencebound Reading, Slough will also be looking to strengthen their squad for next season, their second since being promoted back to the top-flight.
Three or four “quality players” have already been linked with Pink and Blacks, and coach Kali Takher commented: “I hope our current players will buy into what we are trying to achieve and work even harder and use the experience from this year to benefit them next season.”
He added: “I wasn't too surprised we lost today as we have a habit of losing our last game or two of the season, but this is not going to take the tarnish off things. The aim of the season was to survive, and we did that, which was very important to this club.
“Yes, we lost today, but we had done our hard work against Holcombe and Canterbury, getting the results we needed to keep us safe. My team deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Reading spent eight seasons in the Premier Division, during which time they won all of the five games they played at Slough. So last Saturday’s result was perhaps not such a surprise after all.