Reading and Manchester United were forced to settle for a share of the spoils after a tight and physically-contested 1-1 draw in Wycombe.

Lauren James’ first-half strike had given Casey Stoney’s side the lead, before a late Fara Williams leveller from the spot dashed their hopes of returning back to Manchester with all three points.

With both teams chasing fourth spot behind the Women's Super League’s leading trio of clubs, it was always going to be close and the opening 45 minutes proved to be just that.

Neither side could find their rhythm, and it was from the most traditional of routes – a long punt from a free-kick by United goalkeeper Mary Earps – that provided the only talking point of the half.

Home full-back Kristine Leine should have snuffed out the danger but could only glance the ball into Lauren James’ feet.

United’s top scorer took the invitation to drive straight through on goal, before belting through the legs of Rachael Laws, who will feel she could have done better.

Playing in an orthodox 4-4-2, Reading struggled to get their most influential player in Fara Williams on the ball and a tactical re-shuffle from Kelly Chambers at the break finally saw the veteran kick-start her side into life.

With United dropping deeper, Williams began to exert a growing influence. Earps twice had to palm away pinpoint corners delivered right underneath her crossbar – but the real drama was yet to unfold.

Reading were awarded a penalty when Amy Turner was adjudged to have fouled Jade Moore, but Williams saw her effort superbly saved by Earps diving to her right.

James had an opportunity to win it minutes later, only for Laws to deny her before Williams was given the chance to atone from the spot when referee Kirsty Dowie penalised Katie Zelem for handball.

And there was no mistake second time round, as Williams rifled high past Earps to draw Reading level and keep both sides in the hunt for a top four finish.

Reading boss Kelly Chambers said: “The first half was pretty evenly matched but once we changed our shape and personnel in the second, we were much better. We probably should have taken three points, actually.

“Fair play to Fara. She’s got the miss (from the penalty) out of her mind and she’s had the courage to step up again and get us back into the game.

“Once we’d adapted to the shape change, we had some decent openings and you have to take those at this level.

“Yes, Casey had a depleted squad available to her in terms of numbers but it’s a huge point. Everton have dropped points today and it’s such a tight league, so we had to stay in the hunt, which we have.”

Manchester United boss Casey Stoney said: “I’m absolutely gutted for my players, because they deserved so much more than that – how either of those are penalties, I’ll never know.

“We’ve worked so hard in the week to prepare for this. Our attention to detail and graft on the training pitch - off the back of three games in pretty much a week – requires serious work so yes, there’s a strong feeling of anger in that changing room.

“To travel away from home with so many players missing – we’ve got close to half a dozen who weren’t available to us today – and battle, physically, like we did is so pleasing to see but it should have been more.

“There is a plus for us today, though, in the form of Rebecca May. She’s a young girl in our academy who’s got a bright future so to get her on the pitch will only aid her development.”

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