Villa Ladies report: Late heartache after spirited display
Alicia Robinson's superb late equaliser came in vain for Villa Ladies, who were cruelly defeated 3-1 away at Reading Women.
After a relatively subdued first half, in which midfielder Katy Moran was sent off, a dramatic final 10 minutes ensued in which all four goals were scored.
Lauren Bruton broke the deadlock amidst controversy but Robinson's sizzling long-range strike looked to have sealed a well-earned point, before another dubious decision granted Reading a winner as Shelly Cox curled a free-kick home.
And Bruton notched a second from the penalty spot at the death after she was tripped by Maisie Baker, wrapping up Reading's fifth game unbeaten in ruthless fashion.
There were two alterations to the starting XI which beat Millwall Lionesses 2-0 back in May, as Tash Baptiste and the absent Chloe Jones made way for Elisha N'Dow and new signing Katie Wilkinson, making her second debut for the club after joining on loan from Birmingham City Ladies this week.
Unfortunately 11 became 10 just before half-time.
Having received a yellow card on the 41st minute after squaring up with Molly Bartrip, who herself was not booked, Moran got into further trouble four minutes later after clipping Bruton's ankles in a challenge on the halfway line.
Referee Declan O'Shea wasted no time producing his red card, much to the despair of the visibly-frustrated Villa bench.
Her second offence wasn't dangerous or hostile, just clumsy, and perhaps warranted a firm final warning rather than her final minute on the pitch.
Nevertheless, Villa persisted and, at times, it was difficult to tell they were a player down, such was their organisation.
It was particularly harsh, then, when Bruton put Reading ahead in the 80th minute - especially considering the ball appeared to have gone out of playa s the hosts mounted their attack.
From that move, a low through ball by Cheryl Williams played in Bruton who, beating the offside trap, poked home a tasty chipped finish over the on-rushing Caitlin Leach.
But Villa hit back through Robinson whose stunning effort was worthy of winning any game, let alone drawing.
A third substitution saw striker Baptiste replace right-back Hayley Crackle with six minutes to go, and the attacking change paid dividends.
As Villa controlled possession going forward, Robinson cut in from the left before unleashing a wonderfully-crafted 30-yard strike, leaving 'keeper Nicky Davies with absolutely no chance of stopping it.
But with claret-and-blue morale still sky-high, Reading snatched back the lead in the final minute following a harsh set-piece after N'Dow was penalised, much to the displeasure of her team-mates who were adamant that no foul had been committed.
And, from the right-hand edge of the box, Cox took full advantage as she squeezed her free-kick in at the far post.
It was to get even worse for Villa, too, as Baker tripped Bruton in the box to allow the Reading midfielder to add her second from the spot right at the death.
The final whistle was met with disappointment from a despondent Villa side who had battled valiantly with 10 women for half of the game.
Reading Women: Davies, Grant, Horwood, Williams, Jane, Roche (Fletcher, 60), Bruton, Giddings, McGee (c) (Haines, 45), Cox, Bartrip. Subs not used: Moloney, Keown, Nicol, Wilson.
Villa Ladies: Leach, Crackle (Baptiste, 84), N'Dow, McCue (c), Baker, Richards, Fergusson (Davies, 74), Moran, Wilkinson (Cusack, 64), Mayling, Robinson. Subs not used: Myers, Petrovic, Merrick, Stringer.
Follow Villa Ladies on Twitter.