After just under twelve months without a competative fixture, outside of in-house training matches, the Lionesses swept aside Norther Ireland at St Georges Park thanks in part to a hat-trick and player of the match performance from Ellen White.
It’s been a unsettled twelve months in the Lionesses’ with Phil Neville’s protracted departure to MLS side Inter Miami. With Sarina Weigman not due to take over from Neville until after Tokyo 2021, Hege Riise is keeping her chair in the dug out warm on an interim basis.
Riise’s side went ahead in the 18th minute when Ellen White intercepted a sloppy pass from Northern Ireland’s Chloe McCarron. White was able to place the ball passed Becky Flaherty and picked up her 37th international goal.
Five minutes later, right-back Lucy Bronze was given time and space to float in a superb cross which White nodded in to double the home side’s lead.
Bronze then grabbed a goal for herself when her Manchester City teammate, Lauren Hemp, was able to square the ball across goal for Bronze to tamp in from close range.
If the game wasn’t already over as a contest, White killed off any hope that the Northern Irish might have had of mounting a come back when she completed her hat-trick in the 49th minute. White received a pass from Jill Scott on the edge of the box and with her first touch was able to roll Julie Nelson before firing into the roof of the net, giving Flaherty no chance.
The visitors continued to continued to work hard but they were struggling to really trouble Ellie Roebuck (or Sandy MacIver when brought on) in the England goal.
Rachel Daly finished another well worked goal from close range to cap a strong performance for the Houston Dash player.
The scoring was wrapped up by Ella Toone from the spot after Chloe Kelly was brought down by Rebecca Holloway. Toone was making her England debut and I feel that this will be the first of many for Manchester United young midfielder.
Prior to the game Riise said, “Hopefully I can just add a few things – especially the belief in what we are doing. That will be a key message, the belief in how good we are.” I believe that even in this short space of time Riise has done just that and given the players fresh impetus after poor performances at the end of Neville’s tenure.
This result is the very minimum expected from the Lionesses against a weakened Northern Ireland side but this will give the side confidence going into their next game against Canada in April.
Northern Ireland boss, Kenny Shiels, will not be too disappointed. When I spoke to him prior to the game he understood that the game was more about what his players can learn about themselves as a team and individually as they prepare for their Euro 2022 play-off.
Of course we cannot end this report without paying tribute to Jill Scott who made her 150th international appearance. She is second player to reach this landmark after Reading’s Fara Williams. Jill will be pleased with her performance and should feel confident that she can retain her starting place against Canada and maybe even a return to the Team GB side which she previously represented in London 2012.