Tottenham Hotspur Women fell to Reading with one of the worst own goals you’ll see all season. Spurs were disconcertingly outpaced and outperformed by the 11th placed side until some late second half substitutes. By then, it was too late.
Rehanne Skinner started with the now-typical back four of Turner, Bartrip, Zadorsky, and Ale ahead of Becky Spencer. Angharad James and Eveliina Summanen formed a double pivot ahead of them. Rosella Ayane led the line at striker, with Jess Naz and Ash Neville on either side, and Drew Spence as the 10. It was a disappointing lineup, if not surprising—Spurs are still emerging from that early season injury crisis, forced to start squad-level players every game, though at least this time we can take comfort in the fact that we were actually able to name a full bench.
Spurs opened sloppily, not quite making clearances or linking up passes. Players looked to be miscommunicating about marking, pressing, and attacing runs all over the pitch. Reading punished us for it after just 12 minutes. Shelina found Rosella just ahead of the halfway line, and Ros could only lay it off to a double-marked and unsuspecting Eveliina. Reading pounced on the loose ball and launched a shot goalward, the rebound came off the crossbar, and Amy Turner did her best deer-in-the-headlights impression before heading it over Becky Spencer’s outstretched arms and into her own net.
If you thought conceding the messiest own goal ever might’ve galvanized Spurs, you’d be wrong. Reading continued swarming us all over the pitch, creating turnovers, and isolating their quick attackers against our center backs on counterattacks. If not for some solid defending by Molly Bartrip, and some phenomenal saves by Becky, the scoreline would’ve been worse.
The second half progressed much the same. For reasons I can only begin to guess at, Rehanne didn’t make any subs until the 68th minute. But my goodness, when those subs came, they sure did make a difference. Celin Bizet replaced the anonymous Jess Naz, Kerys Harrop replaced Asmita Ale, and Chioma Ubogagu came on for Amy Turner, with Ash Neville dropping back into her familiar right fullback spot. A bit later, Nikola Karczewska replaced Rosella Ayane.
The subs brought a marked increase in tempo and control. After their entrance, Reading could hardly escape from their third. Ash recovered from an uncharacteristically poor first half to put in a great shift at right back, Kerys Harrop reminded us she can do a job at attacking fullback, and Chioma and Celin injected much needed creativity, quickness, and desire into the attack. It’s disappointing our marquee signing still can’t go longer than 20 minutes, but Nikola provided a much needed target, and had a well-taken one time shot go just wide.
There’s an extent to which Reading were a deceptively bad team for us to play right now. They know our weaknesses from the Conti cup, and their quick attackers and solid defenders mean they’re particularly well-positioned to exploit them. In the grand scheme of things, there’s nothing horribly wrong with being 3 points back from 5th with game(s) in hand on the teams ahead of us. But it still hurts, because we should be handily beating teams like Reading. In another world, Nikola turns up fit, Kerys doesn’t get back surgery right before preseason, and the gambles we took on attacking players come off. In that world, I think we beat Reading.
But we’re not living in that world. I was more than happy to give Jess Naz and Rosella Ayane chances at the beginning of the season despite their past performances. After this game, I’m all out of patience. I’m not sure either player should be starting in a WSL team, and they absolutely should not start together, because their weaknesses (i.e. shooting, creating shots, and hold up play) really compound. A weak attack leaves the rest of the team under pressure. It opens up our slow back line to exploitation, and it isolates Amy Turner, who’s playing out of position at right back. It puts a huge amount of work on our double pivot, and while Eveliina and Angharad are forming a fine partnership, it’s not enough to account for an attack whose main strength is losing the ball.
The good news is, the January transfer window is also right around the corner, and Rehanne has already spoken about the need to sign reinforcements. Until then, Rehanne’s 70th minute substitutions fixed a lot of these issues. If the necessary players can stay fit, I back us to turn things around against West Ham next weekend. It looks like a tough fixture by the table, but it really shouldn’t be—by xGD West Ham are not too far behind Leicester at the bottom of the league. It’s almost like they’re actually what we thought we were getting with Reading.
Here’s hoping we show up with our shooting boots.