Plenty to ponder for Phil Neville and England after New Zealand defeat
Lionesses go down in Brighton.
England Women were given a World Cup wake-up call after their final warm-up match ended in a shock 1-0 defeat to New Zealand in Brighton.
Phil Neville’s Lionesses fly to France on Tuesday with ambitions of bringing home the trophy for the first time in the country’s history.
But the team ranked third in the world were left with plenty to ponder after failing to capitalise on prolonged spells of pressure and being sucker-punched by Sarah Gregorius’ strike early in the second period.
Head coach Neville said on Friday that he had trust in each member of his 23-player squad.
The former Manchester United defender has now given all of them ample opportunity to impress and made 10 changes from last weekend’s 2-0 win over Denmark for the final fixture of the ‘Road to France Series’.
Forward Nikita Parris, who opened the scoring against the Danes, was the only player retained, while captain Steph Houghton, Champions League-winning Lyon defender Lucy Bronze and Barcelona forward Toni Duggan were among those brought in.
The next time the Lionesses take to the field will be on June 9 for the Group D opener against neighbours Scotland in Nice.
At a sun-drenched Amex Stadium, which has been selected as a venue for Euro 2021, the hosts began brighter and dominated for most of the afternoon.
Jodie Taylor was denied a ninth-minute penalty after replays suggested she may have been brought down by Erin Nayler as she tried to get a shot away following poor distribution from the New Zealand goalkeeper.
Reign FC forward Taylor was causing plenty of problems for the visitors’ shaky rearguard.
After racing on to Alex Greenwood’s forward pass, she rounded Nayler but had no team-mate available to cut the ball back to, before seizing on a risky back pass from Katie Bowen only to see her dinked attempt smothered.
New Zealand, who begin their own World Cup campaign on June 11 against the Netherlands in Le Havre, have a further warm-up game, on Tuesday against Wales in Cardiff.
They were struggling to cope with the one-way traffic. However, with defender Houghton down in the area having been struck by the ball, Lionesses keeper Carly Telford was forced to tip over from Betsy Hassett just before the interval.
The away side then stunned England by opening the scoring against the run of play five minutes after the restart.
Telford failed to hold a drive from Rosie White and forward Gregorius was on hand to tap home the rebound from close range.
The 22-degree heat provided far from ideal footballing conditions, yet it is likely to be considerably warmer during the Lionesses’ opener at the Allianz Riviera.
England almost an immediate response but Lucy Staniforth’s free-kick from wide on the left whistled narrowly over.
With things not going to plan, Neville turned to the old guard, introducing experienced duo Jill Scott and Karen Carney from the bench.
After winger Carney tested Nayler at the end of a flowing team move, the pair – who are set to feature in their fourth World Cups – combined for midfielder Scott to nod narrowly wide.
In front of a crowd of 20,076, Tom Sermanni’s New Zealand appeared to tire in the closing stages.
But they resolutely dug in for an unlikely win which dents England’s momentum at a crucial stage and leaves Neville with a lot to think about ahead of the big kick-off.