England fell to a 2-1 defeat in Tuesday’s friendly against Norway despite taking the lead at the Brann Stadium.
Georgia Stanway opened the scoring with an excellent goal from distance but England struggled to take control of the game in the first half despite seeing more of the ball.
Norway grew in confidence after the break and eventually equalised from a corner through Frida Maanum.
The Lionesses missed good chances to win it before Caroline Hansen won it for the hosts a minute from time. Here are five things we learned.
1. Stanway surprises herself with stunning opener
After a tepid start to the contest, Georgia Stanway stunned those spectating – and herself – with a spectacular drive from distance that crashed in off the crossbar.
Despite the fact she has produced some impressive long range strikes for Manchester City, Stanway looked shocked at her effort, almost breaking into laughter before celebrating with her adoring teammates.
Wowwww @StanwayGeorgia 😍😍 crazy!!
— Fran Kirby (@frankirby) September 3, 2019
There was nothing on before the 20-year-old let fly with her right foot. It was just her second goal for England, which is a surprise given the quality she clear possesses. Perhaps Stanway will be shooting on sight a bit more often in the future.
2. England defence far too sloppy in possession
The first half should have been more comfortable for England. They had the better of the opportunities but gave the ball away far too sloppily when in possession, especially in the deep areas.
Indeed, the Lionesses simply couldn’t clear their lines at times. Even the experienced Steph Houghton, making her 114th senior international appearances, was guilty of a tame clearance that resulted in Norway creating a half-chance.
And Houghton wasn’t the only one. Her centre-back partner Millie Bright and left-back Demi Stokes also struggled to cleanly play the ball out from defence after winning it back, preventing England from building any sort of momentum.
The back four looked all at sea for Hansen’s winner, too, and Neville has genuine defensive concerns going into the next round of international fixtures.
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3. Bronze a capable midfielder but England miss her full-back magic
Much has been said about Lucy Bronze’s new role for England in central midfield. The right-back, who was named UEFA Player of the Year last week, was asked about her positional switch ahead of the game.
“I’m uncomfortable but I’m enjoying being uncomfortable,” Bronze told BBC Sport, an answer emblematic of her character and desire to adapt to new challenges. But whether Bronze can adapt to playing in midfield – it’s very likely she will – isn’t the issue.
The problem is Bronze’s presence in midfield rids England of the world’s best full-back. The Lionesses often attack down the right but looked a little lost without Bronze’s overlapping and bursting into space.
Instead, the 27-year-old found herself in the channel between the right and the middle, often being forced to cut onto her left foot but understandably failing to deliver any quality on her weaker side.
Her stand-in at right-back, Rachel Daly, didn’t play badly. In fact, the duo linked up brilliantly just after Norway’s equaliser with Bronze heading a Daly cross narrowly wide. But ultimately, Neville must find a way to get the best out of Bronze when she’s not in her favoured position.
4. England’s left flank takes too long to enter fray
Most of England’s attacks came down the right, with Paris, Bronze and Nikita Parris trying and mostly failing to make the most of the room they were afforded. Those players, however, aren’t solely responsible for the team’s attacking problems.
Neville’s side completely failed to get going down the left for most of the game. Toni Duggan didn’t get back and help her full-back Stokes, who equally struggled to support Duggan by giving her anything to work with when England tried to start attacks.
With just over 20 minutes to go, Duggan produced one of the best crosses of the match, cutting inside onto her stronger right foot and curling the ball onto the head of Jodie Taylor, who could only direct her effort wide. But while it was a fine delivery, it came too late in a game that could have done with more moments of quality.
5. An emotional farewell for Hjelmseth
After 16 years of service for the Norwegian national team, 39-year-old goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth bid an emotional farewell to international football with her final appearance.
Hjelmseth made her Norway debut in 2003, emerging as her country’s first-choice goalkeeper by 2009. She went on to make 138 international appearances and was brought back into the fold for one final game. Substituted in the 86th minute, Hjelmseth was surrounded by her teammates before leaving the pitch in tears.
Meanwhile, Barcelona will be very happy to be saying hello – rather than goodbye – to Caroline Hansen. The forward scored a brilliant individual effort to win the game for Norway in the 89th minute.
Hansen signed a two-year contract with Barcelona in May after leaving Wolfsburg and will be hoping to light up Spain after another impressive outing for her country.