England ran out narrow 1-0 winners over Japan in New York on Sunday, keeping their SheBelieves Cup hopes alive.
The Lionesses were anything but vintage, often struggling to break down an unorganised Japanese defence, but found the goal they needed in the final 10 minutes thanks to substitute Ellen White.
So, who were the winners and losers at Red Bull Arena?
Winner: Sakiko Ikeda
It was a frustrating afternoon in New Jersey for England but, that said, Phil Neville’s side would still have wracked up more goals on another day were it not for the efforts of Sakiko Ikeda in goal for Japan.
The Lionesses were quick out the blocks in the first half, creating a number of chances for the likes of Lauren Hemp and Beth England, but every single time, they were thwarted by smart Ikeda saves.
Sure, England were nowhere near as clinical in the 18-yard box as they should have been, but Ikeda’s proactiveness in coming off her line quickly put opposing forwards under pressure and, ultimately, forced sloppy finishes.
Ikeda had conceded 18 goals in her previous 15 caps before this one, so, despite White’s late winner, Sunday was definitely a confidence boost for her.
Loser: Beth England
Much of the pre-match talk was surrounding whether or not Neville would opt to start with England, who had to settle for a place on the bench against the USA last time out.
Neville did indeed start England who, despite going down as a ‘loser’, very much put in a strong performance — her electric movement both between the lines and behind the Japanese defence caused the opposition problems all afternoon and gave the Lionesses a reliable out-ball.
However, pre-match, Neville said he wants England to ‘do what she does for Chelsea’ for the national team. That roughly translates to ‘I want her to score a ton of goals’.
In this regard, England was way off the mark, missing a number of chances you’d expect to be bread and butter for a striker of her calibre. Ultimately, it was this profligacy in front of goal which almost cost England the three points and their SheBelieves Cup title — the Lionesses were bailed out by England’s replacement.
Winner: Jordan Nobbs
England made a fast start to this match but died off somewhat after the half-time break. During that opening 45 minutes, Jordan Nobbs was undoubtedly the best player on the pitch.
Wearing the No.10 shirt, Nobbs fulfilled all of the creative obligations expected of that number, finding the smart runs of Beth England with ease and slipping precision through-balls behind the Japanese defence.
Hard to believe Jordan Nobbs started on the bench versus USA. She’s outrageous. pic.twitter.com/M8eVWvPi1n
— Courtney Hill (@cjhsport) March 8, 2020
Furthermore, she had no problem dropping deep for possession as well, taking the ball from the Lionesses’ centre-backs before spinning and progressing play forward quickly.
Like most of her teammates, Nobbs got bogged down in a very stagnant second half at Red Bull Arena but her first 45 minutes alone were evidence enough of just how talented the Arsenal playmaker is.
Loser: Phil Neville
Englan have been anything but convincing since their World Cup semi-final exit last year, losing six of their last nine matches before Sunday.
Sure, they won this one, but this was in no way an impressive collective performance. Nobbs aside, England were slow, laborious and uninspired.
The only thing Neville got right on the day was hooking England and introducing White, injecting some much-needed attacking impetus into his side’s performance — the substitute eventually bailed her manager out with a late goal following some sloppy Japanese play at the back.
For now, England remain alive in the SheBelieves Cup but this win will do little to dispel the doubt regarding whether or not Neville is the right coach for this talented team.
Winner: Ellen White
The poster-girl of England’s 2019 World Cup campaign strikes again.
The Lionesses looked like they’d totally run out of ideas before White’s introduction, failing to break down the Japanese defence and struggling to even string passes together beyond the halfway line.
But this Japan side are always liable to make mistakes and when they do, you want the ball to fall to White. That’s just what happened in the 83rd minute and when White found the net, she subsequently moved ahead of former England manager Hope Powell on 36 international goals — making her the fifth-most prolific striker in the nation’s history.