Manchester United made it two successive wins in the WSL by beating Reading in a pulsating end-to-end game to strengthen their chances of Champions League qualification.
All four goals came in the first half. Leah Galton scored twice for United in the opening half hour, either side of a Reading equaliser from Deanne Rose. Alessia Russo got the third.
It was a super fast start from the visitors, with Russo striking the crossbar just 16 seconds into the game - she would prove to be a constant thorn for the Royals, with the movement of United’s front three proving particularly effective.
There were only a few more minutes on the clock when Galton got the opener, glancing a header towards the far past after a first-time cross from Hannah Blundell.
Blundell soon turned villain, however, when her poor pass was intercepted in a bad area by Rose, who went on to grab an equaliser against the run of play. Moments earlier, a huge block from Justine Vanhaevermaet had actually stopped Russo from making it 2-0.
Reading weren’t level for long and Galton restored United’s lead with her second. It was a goal made by Russo, turning in midfield to drive forward and split the defence with a curved pass into the path of Galton, who obliged by round goalkeeper Grace Moloney to finish.
Martha Thomas should have made it 3-1 in the closing stages of the first half, but she appeared caught in two minds over whether to shoot or pass and her eventual effort was somehow stopped on the goal-line by Deanna Cooper.
The third goal still came just before the break. Ona Batlle’s long-range effort clearly bounced over the line after striking the crossbar. The officials failed to see it but were partially spared blushes because Russo thrashed in a shot of her own in the immediate aftermath. The first half action didn’t even stop there because Gemma Evans squandered a chance to make it 3-2 when she hit the bar.
The second half lacked the same intensity as the first as United exerted a little more control, although the threat from Reading was still there when Batlle made a key block to keep them out and then Rose forced Mary Earps into a double save.
Earps was a hero again as the game wore on, sticking out an instinctive leg to deny a downward header from Vanhaevermaet and keep the lead at two goals.
There was still time for one final big chance for United to make it 4-1 as Ella Toone, who had been instrumental in a lot of her team’s build up play throughout, saw the ball tantalisingly pulled back towards her. But Evans was in the way for Reading.
Reading player ratings
1. Goalkeeper & defenders
Grace Moloney (GK) - 5/10 - Stood little chance with the goals.
Faye Bryson (RB) - 4/10 - Appeared a little lost at times trying to deal with Galton's pace and the fluid movement of the visitors' front three.
Gemma Evans (CB) - 5/10 - Caught on her heels for the early breakthrough and arguably could have attacked the cross to deal with it. Could have had a goal of her own but hit the bar from close-range.
Deanna Cooper (CB) - 7/10 - Made a miraculous goal-line block at one stage and seemed to single-handedly stop United running up the score.
Lily Woodham (LB) - 5/10 - Tackled with some bite but the movement of her opponents caused trouble.
Sanne Troelsgaard (CM) - 5/10 - Given the run around in the first half.
Justine Vanhaevermaet (CM) - 6/10 - Made a key early block at 1-0 to stop her team going further behind. Also denied a strong header by Earps.
Rachel Rowe (CM) - 6/10 - Flashed an early chance wide of the target and played a role in setting up Rose for the equaliser.
Emma Harries (RW) - 6/10 - Put pressure on Blundell on that side in what appeared to be a targeted tactic form Reading.
Deanne Rose (ST) - 7/10 - Capitalised on a United error to equalise. Her pace and threat on the counter always gave Reading an outlet.
Natasha Harding (LW) - 5/10 - Saw too little of the ball to make an impact.
Chloe Peplow (CM) - 5/10 - Perhaps lucky not to concede a penalty within a few minutes of coming on.
Man Utd player ratings
5. Goalkeeper & defenders
Mary Earps (GK) - 7/10 - Made three important saves in the second half.
Ona Batlle (RB) - 6/10 - Scored a contender for goal of the season but the officials failed to see it had crossed the line. Defended on the front foot.
Diane Caldwell (CB) - 5/10 - Could have passed better and wasn't as good in the air as she would have hoped.
Maria Thorisdottir (CB) - 5/10 - Wasn't the most composed with the ball and was given a tough time by Rose's pace and intelligent movement.
Hannah Blundell (LB) - 5/10 - Grabbed an excellent assist for the opening goal but then cost her team a goal with a poor pass. Struggled defensively.
Jackie Groenen (CM) - 6/10 - Her driving run forward created the opening for the early goal. Worked hard out of possession as usual.
Katie Zelem (CM) - 6/10 - Played her usual deep-lying play-maker role but not as impactful from set-pieces or open play as last week.
Ella Toone (AM) - 8/10 - Pulled the strings for her team behind the vibrant front three. Really good vision and passing, as well as engaging in pressing.
Martha Thomas (RW) - 7/10 - Seems to be thriving on the right. Should have scored in the first half but was too hesitant. Movement good.
Alessia Russo (ST) - 9/10 - A brilliant attacking focal point. Heavily involved in most United attacks, made the second goal and scored the third - both were outstanding moments.
Leah Galton (LW) - 8/10 - Had scored twice in the first 25 minutes after missing several chances last week. Two very different types of goals as well.
Kirsty Hanson (RW) - 6/10 - Fresh legs for the final 20 minutes.
Vilde Boe Risa (CM) - N/A