England 2-1 Scotland: Lionesses limp to UEFA Women’s Nations League victory in Sunderland

A month on from the Lionesses’ heartbreaking FIFA Women’s World Cup Final defeat at Stadium Australia, Sarina Wiegman’s England side welcomed Scotland to Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. With Keira Walsh ruled out through injury and Alessia Russo needing ‘a little more rest,’ the Dutchwoman named Katie Zelem and Rachel Daly in her starting eleven.

An excitable crowd in the North East of England fell silent shortly before kickoff though, as players paused to reflect on Maddy Cusack’s tragic passing earlier this week.

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ENG: Earps; Carter, Greenwood, Bright, Bronze; Stanway, Zelem; Hemp, James, Kelly; Daly

SCO: Gibson; Docherty, Corsie, Howard, McLauchlan; Kerr, Weir; Emslie, Hanson, Grimshaw; Thomas

A flurry of opportunities for the Lionesses throughout the opening stages of Friday’s encounter looked to put Scotland under the cosh, with Georgia Stanway planting a header wide of the far post following a teasing corner delivery.

But the Scots would have seek to push forwards themselves, with Kirsty Hanson engaging in an early battle with Lucy Bronze on Scotland’s left flank. Pedro Martínez Losa’s side certainly posed a threat for the English back line, with Martha Thomas coming close to netting the opener after a cutback ball into the box from the byline.

Opportunities certainly weren’t lacking for Sarina Wiegman’s side, and it was something of a miracle that they had not seized an early lead against an exposed Scottish outfit. Georgia Stanway’s shot from distance was held well by Lee Gibson, just moments after Bronze had wooed the crowd with fancy footwork inside the penalty area.

But against the run of play, it was Mary Earps that would be forced into the first big save of the match. From point-blank range, the Manchester United shotstopper denied Caroline Weir with a remarkable block – demonstrating just why she has been named as England’s Player of the Year in recent weeks.

The sellout crowd at the Stadium of Light thought they had witnessed a moment worth celebrating as Rachel Daly slammed home over the line from Katie Zelem’s corner, though those celebrations would be short-lived though. The referee’s final decision was that Chloe Kelly had obstructed the goalkeeper while in offside position – and with no VAR in operation to take a second look, Maria Sole Caputi’s verdict would stand.

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But with just over five minutes remaining before the half-time interval, Lucy Bronze netted the opener – and this time, it would stand. Latching onto Katie Zelem’s ball over the top from a deep midfield position, the Barça right-back planted a bullet header past Lee Gibson, who was merely a spectator as the Stadium of Light erupted into a cauldron of sheer euphoria.

And that lead would soon be extended, as Rachel Daly did well to leap past Nicola Docherty. Surging towards the byline, the Villa star pinged a cross towards the back post – where Lauren Hemp rose beautifully to add to England’s advantage.

Scotland would halve the deficit on the stroke of half time though, after a dismal defensive organisation allowed Claire Emslie to pick out Kirsty Hanson – and the new Aston Villa signing crashed an effort past Mary Earps via a deflection off the inside of the woodwork.

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Lauren James sought to restore that two-goal buffer in the 51st minute, though the Chelsea starlet was only able to curl her effort wide of the right post. It was a chance that could come back to cost the Lionesses, as their defensive frailties had certainly been exposed at the start of the second half.

Claire Emslie looked destined to restore parity with fifteen minutes remaining, although the delivery flashed a few inches too far in front of her – and just seconds later, Kirsty Hanson saw her looping strike ricochet against the crossbar. But despite looking shaky for lengthy passages of play, the English defence somehow held firm.

Mary Earps would be tested one final time as the game ticked into the final ten minutes, producing an unsighted save to deny Caroline Weir from the edge of the box after a rapid Scottish break.

With the Netherlands having succumbed to an injury-time defeat in their clash against Belgium, England hold pole position in Group A1 ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Utrecht. The Lionesses will face the Oranjeleeuwinnen at Stadion Galgenwaard at 7pm UK time.

Attendance: 41,947