Sport Editor Joe Liddicot writes from Villa Park, where a Rachel Daly hat-trick gave Aston Villa a comeback victory over Reading
Villa park played host to an enthralling WSL clash this Sunday afternoon (20th November), as Aston Villa hosted struggling Reading. There was a jovial, friendly atmosphere around the ground before kick-off, but that was quickly replaced by disappointment early on as Reading took a shock lead.
A lapse in concentration from the hosts allowed Lauren Wade to strike a volley from a loose ball in the box. It was a slow start from the Villans, and it looked as though the away side could steal a shock three points in the biting November air. It took going behind after six minutes to wake Villa from their Sunday slumber.
There were signs early on that Villa would eventually find their feet, though it simply wasn’t clicking in the first part of the half, resulting in a scrappy game littered with misplaced passes and miscommunication between the players. Once it did click, though, Villa showed their quality.
Rachel Daly found the net with her head after 36 minutes, a brilliant curling effort that nestled in the far corner, leaving Burns rooted to her spot. The goal was a deserved one, Villa being comfortably the better side once they got going. It was a period of sustained pressure that eventually gave way to Daly’s first of the afternoon.
The first goal did not sate Villa’s or Daly’s desire to stay on the front foot. The final 10 minutes of the half were played on the home side’s terms as they fought to right their early mishap and go into the break leading.
They got their wish with the last kick – or head – of the first 45, a Kenza Dali corner was turned in by Daly, via a deflection off Natasha Dowie. Despite being the luckiest of her three goals this afternoon, the goal was still laced with quality. An excellent whipped ball to the front post by Dali, and a menacing glancing header by Daly that fired the ball across the face of goal to be inadvertently helped on its way by Dowie.
The second half started quietly but Villa showed that they were in control. 19 year old Laura Blinkilde Brown was particularly impressive in central midfield; composed on the ball and busy off of it, she showed a quality and maturity that will breed excitement among coaches and fans alike at Villa.
On 65 minutes, the game erupted into action once more, Kenza Dali played an exceptional ball to turn Reading’s defence and leave goalkeeper Jackie Burns in an uncomfortable situation. The weight of the ball allowed Kirsty Hanson to nip ahead of Burns – who had rushed out of her box in an attempt to quell the danger – and toe the ball past her, getting clobbered by the keeper in the process. There was little choice for the ref but to brandish a red card, dismissing Burns and sending her, distraught, to the changing room. Tia Primmer was sacrificed to allow Reading to keep a specialist in goal, with Grace Moloney finding herself making an unlikely appearance.
Dali’s ball was the architect of the chaos, but Hanson’s pace was integral too. After an extended break to receive treatment, the winger had to be replaced due to the injuries sustained from the high-speed collision. She limped off the pitch to a grateful applause from the Trinity Road stand, who recognised her bravery in winning the foul and causing the red card.
The resulting free kick sailed over the bar – to little concern for Villa, who knew there were more goals to be scored. Reading were on the back foot: a player down, behind, deflated and stunned.
Nine minutes later, the home side fulfilled their ambition to increase their lead. And who else but Rachel Daly would be the one to score it? Blinkilde Brown put Daly through with a fantastic through ball, the striker was subsequently pushed in the back inside the box, sending her tumbling and forcing the ref’s finger to point towards the spot.
Inevitably, it was Daly who stepped up from 12 yards and confidently placed the ball past Reading’s backup goalkeeper. Hat-trick confirmed, points secured, the whole Villa team celebrated with a group hug that’s indicative of the positive atmosphere that is building around the team. There was relief in the celebration too, the comeback was complete and the job was done.
Moments later Daly had the ball in the net for a fourth time, but it was swiftly ruled out for offside. She was really on form this afternoon, fully deserving of her player of the match.
Little jeopardy surrounded the final 20 minutes, with both sides seemingly content to end the game at 3-1. Villa used the exercise to introduce several young players to the game, replacing Daly and Dali together to rapturous applause from the 4,500+ strong crowd. The pair left their mark on the game, proving themselves to be by far the best players on the pitch. A thoroughly impressive performance from both was recognised by Villa Park, the joyous atmosphere only intensified as they strolled off the field grinning, basking in the applause.
Post-game, the players showed their gratitude to the supporters and took selfies with young fans. The atmosphere throughout the stadium was glowingly positive, a successful Sunday all round for Villa, who now sit 5th in the WSL after back-to-back wins.
Check out the latest Sport articles here: