Reading mother's goals could clinch WSL 2 title for Royals

By Tom GarryBBC Sport
Helen Ward
Helen Ward gave birth to her daughter in September 2014

She began 2015 on maternity leave - now her goals could help clinch the Women's Super League Two title.

The past 13 months have been quite a journey for Reading and Wales striker Helen Ward, following the birth of her daughter.

Now she has found some of the best form of her career, scoring seven goals in her last five games, at the perfect time for the Royals.

The WSL 2 leaders could win the title on Sunday, when they travel to Aston Villa, in their final game of the season.

"Personally, it would top off a bit of a mad year for me," the 29-year-old told BBC Sport.

"We've earned this chance. We deserve a shot at the title. Promotion was our first target, but it would be a huge achievement for the club."

An eye for goal
Helen Ward is Wales' all-time record scorer, having netted 32 times in 54 senior international appearances so far.

But has being a mother changed the former Arsenal and Chelsea striker?

"I've gained a new perspective on everything. It changes your world, having a child," she said. "I appreciate football more. If we don't win, I know it's not the end of world now.

"There are other important things in life, other things can keep me sane."

Yet winning has been the norm for Reading this season, especially away from home.

Helen Ward
Reading have won all eight of their away league games in 2015 so far, with one remaining

One more away victory on Sunday would not only see the Royals finish the year with a 100% away league record, but also - barring a significant swing in goal difference - be enough to secure the league.

Reading and second-placed Doncaster Rovers Belles are both already promoted to WSL 1, and are level on points ahead of the final weekend, but Reading have scored more goals and conceded fewer.

"Winning titles - it's what we play football for," Ward added. "Aston Villa will be tough to face. They're a physical side, with youngsters with a lot of pace.

"We will go there fully expecting a big test."

The popular boss

If Reading seal the title on Sunday, a lot of credit will rightly go to manager Kelly Chambers, the only female boss in the second tier.

"Kelly has done a great job and you can see that from the results we've had," Ward said. "As a former player, she understands the feelings and emotions at this level. That definitely helps.

"She is not afraid to make decisions for the best of the team. I think she'd also say that she has good coaching staff around her."

The fitness challenge

Helen Ward
Helen Ward, who began her career with Watford, was recently named Wales' Players' Player of the Year

In attack, Ward has supplied 11 goals in 22 appearances in all competitions this term.

But she found her best form after the international break for the Women's World Cup - the crucial period when she says she returned to fitness.

"After having my little girl, it was tough to come back from zero fitness," Ward continued.

"I was really starting again, fitness-wise, and I'd never really done that before. I've been lucky not to have any bad injuries or anything like that.

"Then during the World Cup break I managed to get myself in shape. Now I feel fitter than before.

"That's something I think we can be proud of at Reading actually - the fitness work. Teams in the top league train more than us so we've done well in terms of fitness."

WSL 2 - final round of fixtures
Aston Villa v ReadingDoncaster Rovers Belles v Millwall Lionesses
Everton v Oxford UnitedWatford v London Bees
Yeovil Town v Durham