City were forced into two changes from the side that defeated Birmingham City in December, with forwards Natasha Flint and Jess Sigsworth ruled out, while there were places on the bench for new recruits Missy Goodwin and Freya Gregory.
That meant a debut for summer signing Abbi Grant in attack, her first game back since a pre-season injury, and Jemma Purfield came back into the side at Select Car Leasing Stadium after serving a suspension.
An early chance for Natasha Dowie inside the opening minute saw the Reading forward take the ball past former Royals ‘keeper Demi Lambourne, who rushed out of her goal, before Abbie McManus was there to sweep up and clear the danger.
McManus was also involved at the other end, heading Purfield’s free-kick straight into the arms of the grateful Grace Moloney.
Although Leicester had the better of the opening exchanges, it was the home side who broke the deadlock in stunning fashion on 11 minutes as Dowie took aim from distance on the left and managed to lob Lambourne, despite the ‘keeper’s best efforts.
The Foxes pushed for an equaliser and when De Graaf broke away down the right and fired a low ball across the box, no one was quick enough to keep up with the Dutch international and get into a position to turn it home.
The Royals were presented with an opportunity to double their advantage on the half-hour mark when McManus was adjudged to have tripped Dowie in the penalty area. The forward picked herself up to take the spot-kick, which was brilliantly saved by Lambourne, who dived across to her right to push the ball away.
City, meanwhile, were playing some good football and moving the ball around nicely but lacked that killer touch to test Moloney in the Reading goal.
At the other end, Kelly Chambers’ side were searching for a second and almost found it when Emma Harries struck the crossbar, followed by Amalie Eikeland turning the rebound wide in the last goalmouth action of the half.
Dowie had the ball in the net for a second time early in the second period but was flagged offside shortly after a neat finish to slip the ball beyond the outrushing Lambourne.
Gregory had been introduced at the break, for Grant, and made a quick impact. Neat skill from the Aston Villa loanee brought the ball out of City's own half and she soon used her pace to get to the byline, but the cross deflected into Moloney.
Shannon O’Brien's long-range strike was then held by the hosts’ shot-stopper, before De Graaf tricked her way into the box but could not find the finish to match.
And the away side kept the pressure on as O’Brien’s superb cross-field pass picked out Gregory, though she fired wide at the near post with a left-footed strike.
There was always the threat of a breakaway goal from Reading and Lambourne had to be alert to hold Dowie’s first-time effort from Harries’ cross shortly after.
Sophie Howard then let fly from distance, though her shot didn’t trouble Moloney but the pressure certainly ramped up from the visitors. And the Scotland defender was in the action again to knock the ball down for Pike, who shot wide from the edge of the box, ending hopes of a late comeback.
Ashleigh Plumptre battles for the ball with Emma Harries.
The only goal of the game arrived inside the first quarter of an hour courtesy of Natasha Dowie and ultimately proved to be the difference between the sides. Leicester dominated large parts, though, particularly in the second half, and they will take a lot away from the display.
The forward was a threat throughout the 90 minutes.
Shannon O’Brien was at the heart of Leicester’s attacking play, featuring across a fluid front three and providing several moments of quality, though was unable to find the breakthrough that would have earned at least a point on the road.
Where do we stand?
The Dutch international takes aim during the second half in Berkshire.
Defeat sees Leicester return to 12th place in the top-flight standings, on three points from 11 matches, with Birmingham’s win over Arsenal this afternoon lifting the Blues off the bottom of the table.
City have two fixtures coming up in the next seven days.
LCFC Women’s rearranged FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup clash with Manchester City at Pirelli Stadium takes place on Wednesday (7pm kick-off).
Barclays FA Women’s Super League action returns next weekend, on Sunday 16 January, as the Foxes tackle Brighton & Hove Albion at King Power Stadium (2pm kick-off).
City: Lambourne; Tierney, McManus, Plumptre; Howard, Barker (c), Pike, Purfield; O’Brien, Grant (Gregory 46’), De Graaf.
Subs not used: Harris, Brougham, Goodwin, Robinson.
All times GMT.
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