And so, the two titans of the women’s domestic game came together to contest this final under the bright lights of Wembley Arena. The Sky commentators promised us goals, but in the end, just one, from Lauren Turner settled this game.
Both sides were shorn of many of their star names due to Great Britain’s participation in the Champion’s Trophy in Argentina; however Leicester were able to welcome back Kerry Williams, the experienced international, whilst Reading were to be without injured Captain Abigail Harper.
Leicester came out of the blocks the faster of the two sides, forcing Reading goalkeeper Sarah Ellis into making a string of fine saves. One of the more notable of these saves saw Ellis doing the splits to divert an early short corner around the post with her right foot.
Despite Leicester’s initial dominance, the first clear chance came Reading’s way. The superb Samantha Quek broke out of defence leaving opponents trailing in her wake. Quek slid the ball across the D, only for Maddie Hinch to make a sprawling save at the far post.
The two goalkeepers, Hinch and Ellis were two of the stand out performers in the first half, making save after save and keeping the scores level. Chantal de Bruijn and Samantha Quek also looked very composed on the ball and solid defensively as Reading weathered the Leicester storm.
At half time, it would be fair to say Leicester had had the better of things, but Reading had shown enough on the counter attack to suggest the game was far from comfortable for the Pukkas.
The second half began as the first had, Kerry Williams and Vanessa Hawkins combined well, but the latter was denied once again by Ellis in the Reading goal. Then from a Hawkins short corner, Ellis charged out and brilliantly denied the Leicester skipper.
Despite Leicester’s dominance, Samantha Quek was beginning to become more of an influence on the game. Much of Reading’s good work going forward came through the Great Britain International, who also popped up to clear off the line from Williams with Ellis beaten.
With five minutes remaining and the players and spectators entertaining the notion of a penalty shoot out, Leicester finally got the breakthrough. Katie Long made a strong run forward, drawing the defence and goalkeeper towards the left hand side of the D. Long passed to the far post where Lauren Turner pirouetted and turned the ball home.
Reading’s response was instant, winning a short corner. Emma Thomas was tasked with the responsibility of drawing her side level but was brilliantly denied by the on-rushing Maddie Hinch.
Reading’s last throw of the dice was to pull their goalkeeper and play with a kicking back, however with a minute left on the clock, it was too little, too late.
Samantha Quek was rightly named player of the match, her efforts to get her side over the line, not going unnoticed despite being in vain. Both goalkeepers too were outstanding in keeping the scores level as long as they did. Katie Long and Chantal de Bruijn were also excellent and deserve great credit for their performances.
On balance, Leicester probably deserved a win, but Reading, seventh after the first week of qualifying can take a lot of pride from pushing their opponents right to the limit in an absorbing game of cat and mouse. Although the game was not the feast of goals that Sky had promised, it was still a fantastic game and a credit to both sides.
Right then, on to the outdoor!