Rachel Williams puts Manchester United top with winning goal at Reading | Women’s Super League

Substitute Rachel Williams revitalised Manchester United’s title charge by sending her team to the top of the Women’s Super League with an 87th-minute strike launched into the roof of the net to kill off a resilient Reading.

United are level with second-placed Chelsea on 28 points but have a superior goal difference. The reverse fixture may have ended 4-0, on the opening weekend of the season, with Reading four down inside 35 minutes, but the threat of an upset from a Kelly Chambers side is always high.

“We know how savvy Kelly [Chambers] and Phil [Cousins] are in terms of this league and the tactics that they use, that’s why Reading are always competitive,” said United coach Marc Skinner. “It doesn’t matter what result has gone before.”

In the opening 10 minutes it looked as if it could end up being one-way traffic at the Madejski stadium as United strode forward in an increasingly familiar fashion, but the Royals did well to stifle the threat of United’s front three of Alessia Russo, Nikita Parris and Lucia Garcia. Having ridden the wave of pressure, Chambers’s side began to threaten themselves, with Sanne Troelsgaard’s flicked on effort for Emma Harries laced straight at goalkeeper Mary Earps.

The midfielder Justine Vanhaevermaet sent Earps into a back-pedal moments later with a dipping effort onto the roof of the net that looked dangerous. Both Harries and Vanhaevermaet would test the United back line again in the first half, with Harries’ effort from a tight angle put out for a corner that Vanhaevermaet send towards Earps from close range.

Manchester United goalkeeper Mary Earps punches clear to thwart a Reading attack.
Manchester United goalkeeper Mary Earps punches clear to thwart a Reading attack. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

It looked as if the hard work would be undone when Diane Caldwell, who joined Reading from United last summer, upended Russo in the box, but the Reading goalkeeper Jackie Burns waited and dived low to her right to stop Katie Zelem’s tame spot-kick before collecting the rebound – to end a run of seven penalties scored by the England midfielder which began in 2019.

Parris would skim a shot off the top of the bar at the end of the half but Reading clung on to keep the score level.

United’s resurgence late in the first-half continued into the second with Garcia meeting Parris’s cross from left to right and sending the ball across the face of goal, but just ahead of Russo early on. Hayley Ladd would have a shot blocked and Ella Toone’s effort was deflected behind by Emma Mukandi.

Skinner introduced the forward Martha Thomas in a straight swap with Parris to inject some energy, but could not turn to new signings Estelle Cascarino and Jayde Riviere, who had not been registered in time to feature so soon after joining.

It was all United, but Reading had chances to take the lead, most notably when Vanhaevermaet headed Lily Woodham’s free-kick towards Earps, who tipped it wide. Banked back, though, the inevitable was coming and it was the substitute Williams who would save United’s title hopes, weaving in from the left, evading a few lacklustre challenges before finding space and firing into the roof of the net.

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