It’s been a long time since the Lionesses played together in anything other than a training match between themselves. It was just shy of a year ago when they took on Spain as part of the She Believes Cup. That match finished 1-0 to Spain thanks to an Alexia Putellas goal in what was Phil Neville’s final game as England manager.
Led by caretaker boss, Hege Riise, the Lionesses return to action against Northern Ireland at St George’s Park on Tuesday afternoon. I don’t think that there are many complaints to be had over the Lionesses squad considering who is available, only perhaps that Mary Earps might have been in for a shout to be included. Instead, Riise has opted for the talented but internationally inexperienced trio of Ellie Roebuck, Hannah Hampton and Sandy MacIver.
While we all know about the Lionesses and what to expect of the squad, many of our readers might be forgiven for not knowing too much about the Northern Ireland squad, with many of them plying their trade in their home country or in Scotland. The most recognisable faces to many will be Liverpool’s Rachel Furness and Everton’s Simone Magill.
Back in December Northern Ireland beat the Faroe Islands 5-1 to keep their Euro 2022 dream alive. Furness scored twice, with Chloe McCarron and sisters Kirsty and Caitlin McGuinness also on target. The win secured a play-off place that gives Kenny Sheils’ side the chance to qualify for a first major women’s tournament.
Unavailable for the match are sisters Kirsty and Caitlin McGuinness and Rangers defender Demi Vance, who is still recovering from an injury sustained against Belarus back in November. Also missing is Megan Bell and Glentoran pair defender Emma McMaster and Caragh Hamilton.
Northern Ireland go into the game with the experienced pair of Julie Nelson and Ashley Hutton. Between them, the pair have over two-hundred international caps. 35-year-old Nelson, who plays for Crusaders, is currently the country’s most capped player with 113 caps.
Not too dissimilar from England, Northern Ireland have selected a relatively inexperienced set of goalkeepers which include, Jackie Burns (15 caps), Becky Flaherty (5 caps) and Maddy Harvey-Clifford (uncapped). Burns is likely to get the nod between the sticks and she’ll have her work cut out keeping out the likes of Ellen White, Ebony Salmon, Lauren Hemp and Beth England.
One player who I am keen to see start the match is Birmingham City’s Chloe McCarron. The 23-year-old midfielder first represented her country at U15 level as a 13-year-old. Appearances for the U17s and U19s followed and in February 2015 she made her international debut against Scotland.
However, it is only more recently that McCarron has really started to command a regular place in the squad. For Birmingham City, she has mainly been used as a substitute in the latter stages of matches but started their last WSL match, a 1-1 draw against Everton.
Everton striker Simone Magill returns to the squad after missing the Euro qualifiers against Belarus and Faroe Islands through injury. Along with Rachel Furness’ great long-range finishing, Magill is going to be a big threat to the Lionesses defence. Magill is a hard-working forward who will put pressure on the Lionesses defence.
Magill holds the world record for the fastest international goal in women’s football. The United States’ Alex Morgan had previously held that accolade at twelve seconds, however against Georgia in 2016 Magill scored after eleven seconds!
There is no part of me that thinks that this match will be anything other than a Lionesses win. However, what sort of performance we will get from Hege Riise’s side is unpredictable. We could see a side still suffering a lack of confidence from Phil Neville’s reign, alternatively, we could see a motivated and hungry side that are looking to make a statement and if it’s the latter then the Northern Irish will have to put in a momentous performance to avoid defeat.