United suffer heavy defeat to promotion favourites
United went down to a heavy 4-0 defeat at home to Reading in FA Women's Super League 2, following a clinical first-half performance from the visitors. Goals from Helen Ward, Nikki Watts and Rebecca Jane gave Reading a three-goal lead at the break and Emma Follis added a fourth in the second half.
New signing Destiney Toussaint came straight into the United side up front, replacing Ella Franklin-Fraiture. But the U's were without suspended captain Sahara Osborne-Ricketts, with Amy Chivers returning to the Oxford defence in her stead.
And the captain's influence was sorely missed in the early stages as the visitors immediately began to apply pressure. It took Reading 14 minutes to make the breakthrough, taking the lead when Helen Ward slipped through the lines to latch onto a through ball before firing across goalkeeper Hannah Cox and into the bottom corner.
They could have doubled their advantage shortly after when Nikki Watts squeezed the ball past Cox, only to see it come back off the inside of the post. The Reading forward raced to meet the rebound, but found Chloe Bruce on the line to block her follow-up effort. Ward had the ball in the net for a second time just three minutes later, but this time her celebrations were halted by the offside flag.
Having come through an early storm, United began to press forward themselves and put the Reading goal under threat. Newcomer Destiney Toussaint looked lively and dangerous, outpacing three Reading defenders with one move before playing a dangerous ball across the face of goal which was just beyond the reach of Katie Stanley at the back post.
But no sooner had United begun to establish themselves in the match, Reading struck again. The U's defence found themselves sucked into the middle to deal with the tricky Emma Follis and Ward, leaving Nikki Watts unmarked on the left-hand side to fire home the second.
And just minutes later it was three as the shellshocked United defence were caught out by a dangerous ball over the top from Ward, which Rebecca Jane raced onto and slipped past the helpless Cox.
Nia Jones came desperately close to adding a fourth for Reading after the break, only to see herself denied at close range by some excellent last-ditch defending from the U's. First Isi Meade flung herself in front of her shot to block it on the line and then Cox clawed the ball away from goal. Cox was needed again just moments later to keep the score down and deny Watts a second. Follis robbed Cox of the ball on the edge of the area before squaring to Watts, whose shot was superbly saved by the retreating keeper.
But the fourth goal wasn't far away. Follis struck home on the turn following an almighty scramble in the Oxford area, with the U's unable to clear their lines.
United refused to give up and again came close to getting themselves on the scoresheet when Reading goalkeeper Grace Moloney was forced to beat away Kayleigh Hines' powerful free-kick, with Helen King heading the follow-up wide from close range. United continued to search for what would have been a deserved goal, but could come no closer to finding the net during the remainder of the match.
United: Cox, Meade, Bruce (Nichol HT), Chivers, Lane, Hines, Nutman, King, Pickett (Low HT), Stanley (Pinker 68), Toussaint. Subs not used: Lambourne, Baker.