A hat-trick from the Manchester City striker Ellen White helped the Lionesses to a 6-0 win over Northern Ireland and ensured England ushered in a new, more direct, era under the temporary manager Hege Riise in style.
Little was always going to be gleaned from a friendly between teams separated by 43 places in the Fifa world rankings, and a vicious wind affected the game.
Positive signs were there, though, for England in a less familiar 4-4-1-1. They had won only three of their previous 11 games, including narrow and unconvincing victories over the lowly ranked Portugal and the Czech Republic. Against Northern Ireland there was a directness to England’s play that had been somewhat sacrificed in Phil Neville’s search for the perfect pass.
Riise and Steph Houghton had said that we should look out for better switches of play, the high press and a more direct attack, and it was easy to see the impact of the plan. With the Arsenal midfielder Jordan Nobbs sitting behind White, and the Manchester City winger Lauren Hemp and Houston Dash forward Rachel Daly out wide the intention was clear: to feed the Women’s Super League top scorer.
The press would provide the first of White’s goals. A weak pass from centre-back Chloe McCarron was leapt upon by the City forward, who fired low past Sheffield United’s Becky Flaherty, who had kept England at bay with a string of fine saves.
The Fifa Best player of the year, Lucy Bronze, had drawn criticism from some for a slow start to the WSL season, with her return to City impacted by recovery from an injury. In the new year, though, she has looked back to her best and at St George’s Park drove play from right-back with an authority befitting of her title of the world’s best player.
A gut-busting run and cross from the right was glanced in by White for England’s second and Bronze grabbed the third herself, tapping in a cross from Hemp at the far post.
In the second half England’s domination continued. A neat ball from Jill Scott, winning her 150th appearancecap, picked out White, who clipped the ball past Flaherty for her hat-trick. Then Bronze cut back from the byline to provide a tap-in for Daly, and the Manchester United forward Ella Toone provided the sixth with a penalty.
Toone made her debut along with the Everton goalkeeper Sandy MacIver, Arsenal defender Lotte Wubben-Moy and Bristol City forward Ebony Salmon.
England will face better opposition and bigger tests but Riise has already presided over as many six-goal wins as her predecessor Neville. In fact, in Neville’s three years England scored more than three times only twice: a 4-1 victory over France at the SheBelieves Cup in his first game and in a 6-0 World Cup qualifying defeat of Kazakhstan.
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