Mana Iwabuchi takes centre stage for Aston Villa in first start in Women's Super League

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May 8, 2002
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Aston Villa Women 2 Reading Women 2 Mana Iwabuchi delivered on her star-signing status contributing a goal and assist in her first Women's Super League start to earn Aston Villa a last-gasp draw against Reading. The World Cup winner gave a group of travelling Japanese press something to cheer about after her heroics handed Villa their first league point at home this season. It lifted a squad who last week were drubbed 7-0 by Manchester City and puts them five points above relegation favourites Bristol City with a game in hand. "Coming off the back of Sunday, I think we’ve had our most challenging week to date," Villa manager Gemma Davies said post-match. "One thing we asked of the players was to turn up and graft. I think we saw that. I think Mana could be really important for us, like she was today. She was critical." Despite going behind twice, Davies's side put up a fight on Saturday afternoon, even as heavy snow hampered visibility at times. They were not in the game for the first half though and Reading manager Kelly Chambers was baffled at how her team let their win slide. "It feels like a loss," she said post-match. "The second half doesn’t even come into contention if you put the first half to bed. That cost us today." She was right. Welsh duo Jess Fishlock and Angharad James combined to give Reading the lead just three minutes into play. Fishlock's attempt from range was well saved by Lisa Weiss, but James headed in on the rebound to spur Reading on. Chambers's team brought their trademark pressing style which has frustrated top teams this season, earning them draws against title-chasing Manchester City and Arsenal - the latter just last weekend. They pestered Villa, showing special, unwanted attention to Iwabuchi, often bullying the slight midfielder off the ball. But as has been the case against other low-ranked sides this season, Reading did not convert on their dominance. Their 24 attempts dwarfed Villa's seven overall, but counted for little in the end. There was bad news too when top-scorer Lauren Bruton retired before the half hour mark with a hamstring issue. Villa worked hard to adjust to the ongoing pressure, Caroline Siems often wrangling her way out of her opponents' traps on the left flank, and they came out of the tunnel for the second period with renewed energy. With Iwabuchi as playmaker, she began bringing the flair that Villa signed her for, out-smarting defenders and threatening with her deft short passing game. When Emily Syme was fouled just shy of the 18-yard box, it gave Villa their first meaningful set-piece opportunity 10 minutes into the half. Natalie Haigh's excellent low delivery found Iwabuchi, who snuck ahead of the Reading line to slot home her first WSL goal and the equaliser. But two minutes later, as the snow began to swirl, Reading caught Villa off-guard to edge themselves back in front, via a through-ball to Rachel Rowe in the box. Lisa Weiss then had to work hard to keep Villa in it from thereon, the goalkeeper blocking two successive short range attempts - in particular Danielle Carter's, who should have done better with her one-v-one chance. It ultimately cost Reading, and a touch of magic from Iwabuchi got Villa their much-longed for equaliser in stoppage time. She waded her way through Reading's defence and the sleet-drenched 18-yard box before feeding it back to substitute Diana Silva, who stole Reading's win out from under them. "You go from taking points off of Arsenal, and then come to Villa - we should be taking three points in this game," Chambers said of the result, which keeps her team treading water mid-table. "We’ve got to perform consistently. It’s been the story of our season unfortunately.” Match details Aston Villa (4-3-1-2): Weiss 7; N’Dow 5, Haigh 7, Asante 7, Siems 8; Haywood 6 (Silva, 67), Syme 7 (Hanssen, 68), Ewers 6; Iwabuchi 8; Larsen 7, Follis 6 (Hayles, 75). Substitutes not used: Rogers, Ale, West, Hutton, McLoughlin. Booked: N’Dow, Larsen. Reading (4-3-3): Moloney 7; Roberts 7 (Harries 67), Cooper 7, Bartrip 7, Mitchell 6; Rowe 7, James 7, Fishlock 8, Eikeland 7; Bruton 6 (Carter 27), Harding 6. Substitutes not used: Nayler, Woodham, Skeels, Childerhouse. Referee: Kirsty Downie.

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