Chelsea ensured they went through the winter break three points clear at the top of the Women’s Super League by fending off Reading in a snow-covered Kingsmeadow.
Fran Kirby’s early arrival set the tone as the hosts dominated the first half, with Jelena Cankovic scoring twice.
Cankovic struck after Johanna Rytting Kaneryd hit a post and headed in a cross four minutes later.
But Reading then struck twice in two minutes in the second half, through Sanne Troelsgaard and Amalie Eikeland.
Troelsgaard’s low shot squirmed under Ann-Katrin Berger after some questionable defending before Eikeland fired a post as their side threatened to end Chelsea’s eight-game league run.
The defending champions had seen Arsenal equalize with them at the top of the table in beating Aston Villa earlier on Sunday.
Reading were harmed by Kirby’s opener as provider Kaneryd appeared to be offside when she won the ball.
The Royals, bottom third, remain seven points clear of trouble after an 11th away game without a win.
Royals ambition scares Chelsea
Manager Kelly Chambers stuck with the players who started Reading’s second win of the season – against Tottenham – a week earlier.
Head coach Phil Cousins has been warned for protesting – with some justification – against allowing Kirby’s goal, although Chelsea’s fiery opponents are unlikely to have held them off any longer , even if he had been excluded.
Despite the testing conditions, Reading’s determination to press paid off when Millie Bright failed to convincingly manage a cross and Berger allowed Troelsgaard’s low shot to roll under her.
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes was clearly in good spirits on the bench as her side took a decisive lead, but concern was evident around Kingsmeadow after Eikeland reduced the deficit further.
The side who had been beaten 5-0 on their previous two trips to Chelsea could not complete what would have been a remarkable comeback to win an unlikely point, while the hosts pushed for a fourth in a frantic finish .
In this form, however, Reading can look forward to a return to the WSL in January – and title challengers Chelsea will have been cheered on as the leaders worked their way to victory.
Kirby haunts the Royals again
Chelsea striker Kirby – born in Reading and a graduate of their youth system – has rarely shown mercy to the hometown club, playing a direct role in 11 goals in eight appearances against them.
The English livewire averaged comfortably more than a goal per game in his three years as a first team with the Royals, and his eighth against them relied on a quick reflection of a free-kick and a miss officials to spot an apparent clear offside.
The early first goal was a reward for a crowd of 1,184 who sang Always Look on the Bright Side of Life early on as they braved freezing conditions to watch the final game of the calendar year at Kingsmeadow.