Alessia Russo struck twice as England maintained their flawless start to Euro 2022 with a commanding 5-0 win over Northern Ireland at St Mary’s.
The Lionesses have now scored 14 times without reply in their three Group A matches to finish in top spot and will face the runners-up from Group B – either Spain or Denmark – in the quarter-finals.
Northern Ireland started defensively looking to contain already-qualified England, and managed to keep them at bay until the 40th minute when Fran Kirby’s lofted curled strike broke the deadlock.
Beth Mead quickly doubled the host nation’s advantage with her fourth goal of the tournament just before half-time before an impressive England eased further clear after the break in front of 30,785 fans in Southampton.
Russo, having replaced Ellen White at half-time, epitomised the impact substitute role, finding the net twice in quick succession soon after the restart.
England’s fifth and final goal came in unfortunate fashion for Northern Ireland, Kelsie Burrows slicing the ball over goalkeeper Jacqueline Burns and into her own net.
Northern Ireland came into the match having already been eliminated from quarter-final contention, but it was the visitors who had the first chance when Lauren Wade raced down the right and cut inside before drawing a save out of England goalkeeper Mary Earps.
England were soon on the attack themselves though, and looked to have been given a great chance to take the lead when they awarded an early penalty for handball. However, the decision was reviewed by VAR before referee Esther Staubli was called over to the monitor and subsequently overturned her decision for an England handball in the build up.
Northern Ireland managed to keep England at bay in the 16th minute with a block on the line to keep out Mead’s effort before before Burns was equal to Millie Bright’s attempt from distance, diving low to palm the ball behind.
White missed an early chance to level Wayne Rooney’s record for the most England goals when, after being played in by Lucy Bronze in the 25th minute, she dragged the ball just wide of the target after beating the goalkeeper.
That proved to be her best chance of the game before she was taken off as one of three half-time changes.
Kenny Shiels’ side had looked set to reach the interval still on level terms, only for Kirby’s superb placed finish into the top corner of Burns’ net to put the Lionesses ahead in the 40th minute.
Soon after that it was 2-0. Mead took a touch in the box to beat the defender before calmly slotting the ball into the back of the net past Burns, who had worked hard to keep England at bay for the majority of the first half.
England, for whom coach Sarina Wiegman was absent from St Mary’s after testing positive for coronavirus, maintained their momentum after half-time with replacement Russo making an immediate impact when she headed home just minutes into the second half.
The Manchester United forward did not have to wait long for her second either, taking a touch to lose her opponent before slotting past Burns after being played in by fellow substitute Ella Toone.
England’s convincing victory was wrapped up with just over 10 minutes remaining when substitute Burrows sliced an attempted clearance past the helpless Burns.