NATASHA Harding struck her first goal in a red shirt as Liverpool Ladies eased to a comfortable 2-0 win over promoted side Reading FC Women.

Both goals came in quick succession during the first half, Laura Coombs had teed Harding up for hers and then netted one of her own to seal the victory.

Scott Rogers had navigated a tumultuous start to life as manager of Liverpool Ladies, with one win in six as the Reds had no trouble finding the back of the net yet struggled defensively.

In recent weeks, however, the tide has begun to turn. A thumping 4-0 victory away at Sunderland in May was followed by back-to-back hard fought draws with top of the league Manchester City.

Next came progression to the quarter-finals of the Continental Cup with a battling derby performance against Merseyside rivals Everton.

Now the Reds are unbeaten in five, having conceded just once — away at City — and scored eight goals with seven different scorers.

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Rogers reverted to the side that had twice frustrated City; Caroline Weir flanked either side by Natasha Harding and Shanice De Sanden; Rosie White, Kate Longhurst and Laura Coombs in midfield.

The back line is now unchanged in the last five games with Siobhan Chamberlain in goal behind Satara Murray, Gemma Bonner, Sophie Ingle and Alex Greenwood.

To say that Liverpool dominated the first half would be an understatement, the neat passes and clever runs a demonstration of understanding amongst team mates and a mark of a team taking shape and coming together.

The Reds set up camp in the Reading half, drawing a couple of early free kicks as Greenwood first swung one inside the box that was met by Harding yet took a deflection to fall into the hands of Reading goalie Mary Earps.

Then Harding was fouled at the edge of the area after exchanging passes with Greenwood and Coombs stepped up to send the set piece inches wide.

On a couple of occasions Reading broke ranks; the ever-impressive Murray intercepting one hopeful ball forward and finding Longhurst. Longhurst in turn got the ball wide to Van De Sanden who exhibited her explosive pace to cut in and square to Weir, however the move ended with the Scottish international’s strike blocked.

 

Reading’s Emma Follis then created a chance for herself, finding space and shooting from distance. The effort flew past the backtracking Chamberlain but, fortunately for Liverpool, crashed back off the crossbar and the Reds were able to clear.

Reading would be left to rue this chance as with almost the next move Liverpool took the lead. Coombs put Harding through and the Welsh winger finished low past Earps to chalk up her first goal for the club.

Just seven minutes later it was two — Coombs this time the recipient of the ball within the area, a wonderful through ball from Weir, and lifting the ball over Earps’ shoulder from yards out.

As half time loomed both sides had chances, White unable to control her header following a Weir set piece and Harding closed down by two Reading defenders inside the area before she was able to get a shot in.

For Reading Jade Boho-Sayo could only watch as Chamberlain dived to punch her effort clear, while back at the other end Van De Sanden had Earps beaten once more with a fancy flick yet the centre back managed to head away.

 

Reading made two changes at the break as they looked to drag themselves back into the game, Amber Stobbs and Molly Bartrip on for Helen Ward and Hannah Knapton.

The substitutions made a difference for Reading and they carved out a string of chances at the beginning of the second half. Bonner expertly defended a low cross six yards out from goal and Coombs smartly steered Boho-Sayo away from goal before dispossessing the former Bristol forward and allowing Longhurst to carry the ball away.

Then Chamberlain rose highest to claim a corner before quickly reacting to Follis’ shot at point blank range, preventing the No.7 from pulling a goal back.

Reading also hit the woodwork once more in the second half, Stobbs seeing Chamberlain push her strike onto the crossbar with the rebound hurriedly cleared by Bonner as Follis looked to capitalise.

The Reds were carving opportunities out of their own as Reading looked to pull a goal back, the second half more of an even contest and both Harding and Van De Sanden causing the opposition defence plenty of problems.

Van De Sanden latched onto a long ball forward to round Earps but was let down by a first touch that was a tad too heavy and allowed the ball to run away from her, while Harding almost doubled her tally for the afternoon but her header from a Weir free kick landed in the arms of Earps.

Despite Reading’s second-half resurgence, Liverpool impressively defended as a team to keep their fourth clean sheet in five games — a huge positive they can take into their next game, same time next Saturday against Notts County Ladies.

LIVERPOOL LADIES: Chamberlain, Murray, Bonner, Ingle, Greenwood, Longhurst, Coombs, White (Zelem), Harding (Charles), Van De Sanden (Hodson), Weir.

PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Natasha Harding

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