Watford Ladies put in an encouraging performance against top of the table Reading, despite losing 3-0 in what was a harsh scoreline.
The Golden Girls lined-up in a new formation, with both Grace Gillard and Mollie Burgess making their first league starts in defence.
The girls are positive and it’s a really good way to break after a tough first 14 days of the season.Watford Ladies manager John Salomon
While the final result might not show it, the tactical switch was one that worked; however goals from Fran Kirby and Emma Follis (2) secured the three points for the hosts.
It was an even start to the game, with Watford out of the blocks quickly. Kate Natkiel ran with the ball 40 yards down the wing but Grace Moloney managed to pick out her cross into the box.
Reading then created a great opening on 10 minutes but some fantastic defending from M Burgess denied Lauren Bruton.
It was the home side tho took the lead 16 minutes later when Bruton won the ball in midfield before putting Kirby through one-on-one, and the league’s top scorer made no mistake as she fired past Cherie Rowlands.
Looking to hit back, the Golden Girls responded well. Playing against her former club, Stacie Donnelly tried her luck from distance, forcing Moloney into a testing save.
Rowlands had little to do in the first half but she pulled off a cracking save to deny Kirby, tipping over her 25-yard free-kick.
Having only picked up a knock seconds previously, Josie Green got straight in the thick of it just before the break, shooting wide from distance.
The last chance of the half fell to the Royals, with Bruton heading wide from a Kirby cross, meaning it stayed 1-0 at the break.
Early on in the second, a lovely ball from Natkiel out wide to Anneka Nuttall saw the striker win a corner. Hollie Wride’s delivery was good but Moloney managed to deal with it at the second attempt.
Rowlands had to come off with a knock just after the hour, with Shayla Burgess the replacement in goal.
With 65 minutes gone the Lady Hornets were well in the game, giving very little away and chasing an equaliser.
The crucial second for Reading would come shortly after, however, as a long pass found Follis who applied the finishing touch.
Not deterred, those in a yellow shirt kept plugging away and trying to find a way back into the game. After a good period of possession, Dawn Mallett fired over from just outside the area.
However, the harsh third goal for Reading came with just over 10 minutes to play. Shayla Burgess denied Helen Ward’s header brilliantly but Follis was around to tap home the rebound.
Again, the Golden Girls responded to the setback well. Nuttall showed some clever hold-up play before releasing Mallett, who cut inside her defender before forcing Moloney into a good save.
While the third goal had made the scoreline a touch flattering, a fourth would have been really tough on a Watford side that had performed admirably.
A penalty was awarded and gave the hosts the chance to add to their tally, but Bruton blazed the spot-kick over the bar.
The full-time whistle went and, while Reading rightfully won the game, all involved with Watford LFC deserved more for their efforts.
“It was a solid performance,” said Watford manager John Salomon. “We spent a lot of time working on the way we wanted to play today and I thought the girls executed it really well.
“We went in one down at half-time but we defended well and started to look to expose them on the counter attack. The second goal was always going to be a big turning point but unfortunately we weren’t able to get that.
“I’m really pleased with how the girls approached it. We changed the setup slightly, had a little look at the first couple games of the season and made a few changes tonight.
“The girls are positive and it’s a really good way to break after a tough first 14 days of the season.”
Two youngsters featured in that mentioned change of system, with Mollie Burgess and Grace Gillard both making their first league starts.
Salomon was delighted with their efforts: “They’re both 18 years old so it was a big ask to come here against a team that’s scored more than double figures in their first two games.
“They dealt with it fantastically well and I thought they were superb; they both gave us exactly what we were looking for and showed the reason why we changed the system.
“The way we approached the game was shown to be the right decision because of the way they executed their roles in the defensive line-up and I was really impressed with them.”
Having played a number of matches over the last couple of weeks, the Lady Hornets now have an extended break without a fixture, with Millwall at home on April 19 next up.
That leaves plenty of preparation time. “We’ll just continue to focus on the things we’ve worked on,” Salomon says. “They adapted to the system very well today but we now need to go away and make sure we learn the finer details that we want so that we’ll be better equipped for the Millwall game.
“It’s been a real busy two weeks; I think some of them have played six games in 15 days, so to now have none for 17 days, it will work in our favour.
“It will give us a little bit of time to give the girls a bit of rest, to reflect, to build their fitness levels up.
“We’ll be able to make training a slightly harder intensity and make sure they’re 100 per cent ready for Millwall. They will be up for it, looking to get those first points for the season.”
Watford: Rowlands (S Burgess 63), Heaslip, M Burgess, Robe, Gillard, Wride, Green, Donnelly (Scheffer 82), Mallett, Natkiel (Farrow 68), Nuttall