READING women produced their best performance the season when defeating runaway Conference West leaders Stourport 3-1 at Sonning Lane on Saturday, writes Dave Wright.

It was the visitors' first defeat of the season and it came a week after their run of 12 successive wins had come to an end in a goalless draw with Olton & West Warwicks.

Player-coach Jo Ellis inspired the Blues by scoring twice, but she had to share the player-of-the-match award with Abi Miller.

The teenage keeper pulled off a series of excellent stops, including some from sharply-struck penalty corners, plus an outstanding save with her stick when the score stood at 1-1 and the match hanging in the balance.

Ellis now faces a difficult decision as the team's first-choice keeper, Amy Tennant, is available again after returning from FIH Pro-League duty with Great Britain.

During her absence, schoolgirl Miller has played in five games, helping her side to win four of them, while conceding just three goals, earning her three player-of-the-match awards in the process.

The hosts were quickly into their stride against Stourport and forced a penalty corner which led to teenager India Shakespeare opening the scoring with just five minutes on the clock.

Claire Pearson equalised from a set-piece routine four minutes before half-time, but Ellis restored her side's lead on 40 minutes and went on to put the issue beyond doubt in the 64th minute, both her goals coming from penalty corners.

During the second half, Blues defended superbly against their Worcestershire opponents, who had netted 44 goals in their previous 13 games and who look odds-on to retain the Conference West title.

Reading move up to fifth in the table, one point adrift of the third club, Olton & West Warwicks, ahead of this Saturday's fixture away to seventh-placed Barnes (noon).

Reading men's hopes of finishing in the Premier Division's top four look all but over after crashing to a 5-1 home defeat at the hands of Surbiton, whose win last Saturday assures them of qualifying for the play-offs.

The Blues now find themselves six points behind the current fourth-placed side, East Grinstead, with just four games remaining and their goal-difference is vastly inferior. It now becomes a must-win game for them when they visit the Sussex club this coming Saturday (6pm).

Head coach Jason Lee was hoping his defence would be strengthened by the return of Liam Sanford following the FIH Pro League matches, but the GB player suffered a serious knee injury during a friendly match with Australia which is expected to rule him out for the rest of the season.

The weakened home rearguard were up against international star Alan Forsyth, who went into the game with 20 goals to his name, the same total as the whole Reading team put together.

And the Scotland hot-shot added to his haul when putting the visitors ahead after 25 minutes, only for Reading's GB forward, Lee Morton, to equalise within a minute, both goals coming from open play.

League leaders Surbiton regained the lead two minutes before half-time through Ben Boon, playing against his former club, and went on to dominate the second half.

James Royce, another ex-Reading player, made it 3-1 from a penalty corner on 44 minutes and Surbiton eased further ahead thanks to Forsyth in the 55th minute and Hayden Beltz seven minutes from time.

The defeat would have been even heavier but for some excellent saves from keeper Chris Wyver.