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Reading FC Women 4 (Kirby 22,45,60, Horwood 69) Doncaster Rovers Belles 0
Another Fran Kirby hat-trick plus a fourth from Bonnie Horwood allowed Reading to end Doncaster Rovers Belles' unbeaten league record in emphatic style at Farnborough.
The margin of defeat was rather harsh on the balance of play as Belles exerted considerable pressure on the home goal throughout the match but were unable to convert any of the
promising situations as Reading defended very well. In contrast, Reading scored at crucial times and could have made the victory even more emphatic late on but for two excellent saves by Nicola Hobbs and a brave goal line clearance from Leandra Little.
Doncaster looked bright and inventive early on with Sue Smith and Jess Sigsworth seeing plenty of the ball and testing the Reading defence with crosses. The hosts' first meaningful attack saw an exchange of passes between Lauren Bruton and Kirby well defended by Little and Hobbs. Two chances less than 60 seconds apart illustrated the nature of the encounter. Sigsworth robbed Royals defender Kirsty McGee on the edge of the box and curled an instant strike inches wide of Nicky Davies' goal. At the other end Kirby, from a similar angle and distance, found the top corner for the Royals' opener on 22 minutes.
The rest of the half was an intriguing contest of few chances with the midfield offering strong competitive battles between Lois Roche, Bianca Bragg and Horwood on one side and Kasia Lipka, Victoria Williams and later on substitute Millie Bright for Belles. Right on the half time whistle, Kirby doubled the lead with another instinctive finish. Having seen her initial threat well defended, the league's top scorer simply stopped then stabbed the ball past three covering defenders and the helpless Hobbs with a precise low finish from ten yards.
Faced with an already difficult task, the Belles exerted early pressure with a Smith shot and another effort narrowly over but were undone by a superb counter attack. Bragg played a perfectly weighted pass for the run of Kirby who lifted the bouncing ball over the advancing Hobbs.
The scorer turned provider for the fourth on 68 minutes, releasing Horwood for a cool finish from 12 yards. Doncaster continued to have plenty of the ball in dangerous areas, Davies made two good claims from Smith corners. and Molly Bartrip was very strong in countering the ever present aerial threat as Belles went more direct in their approach.
At the other end, there was nearly a goal of the season contender as a rapid exchange of passes ending with a backheeled volley set up from Horwood released Bragg, whose shot brought a fine save by Hobbs to turn the ball on to the post. The keeper then went full stretch to save a rasping Kirby shot. When a Roche free kick was not dealt with, Little stood strong to chest away another powerful shot from the line.
Despite Belles' best efforts, including a penalty claim for a foul on Sigsworth and a close call when Courtney Sweetman-Kirk went round the keeper, Reading saw out the match and protected their
clean sheet very efficiently in the final minutes. Although Kirby again stole the headlines with another sparkling display. there were plenty of other strong performers in a good team effort from Jayne Ludlow's players.
Belles had inflicted a heavy defeat on the Royals in the reverse fixture and in truth the three points the clubs dropped to each other may leave Sunderland as the beneficiaries in the WSL 2 promotion race, especially after the Black Cats had fought back for a draw against Reading seven days before.
Reading FC Women: Nicola Davies, Rebecca Jane, Shelly Cox, Harriet Scott (sub Ashleigh Goddard 86mins), Molly Bartrip, Kirsty McGee, Bianca Bragg, Bonnie Horwood, Lauren Bruton, Lois Roche, Fran Kirby (sub Cheryl Williams 83mins).
Doncaster Rovers Belles: Nicola Hobbs, Lyndsey Cunningham, Lauren Cresswell (sub Millie Bright 36mins), Leandra Little, Rhiannon Roberts, Kasia Lipka (sub Reanne Thomas 76mins), Jess Sigsworth, Sue Smith, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk, Victoria Williams, Beth England (sub Ashleigh Mills 65mins).
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
Photos by www.jamesprickett.co.uk:
(top) Courtney Sweetman-Kirk holds off Molly Bartrip
(middle) Lois Roche is challenged by Beth England
(bottom) Fran Kirby battles with Kasia Lipka
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