Jill Scott’s 150th cap, Ellen White’s first England hat-trick, four debuts, a managerial debut and the Fifa The Best player Lucy Bronze looking like, well, the best – England’s 6-0 defeat of Northern Ireland in the side’s first game in 349 days made as much of a mark as a friendly could.
White and Scott stole the headlines but the performances of two others, one new, one old (experience-wise), stood out.
The return of the three-times Champions League winner Bronze to Manchester City came with big expectations and the 29-year-old right-back would likely say that her reintroduction to the Women’s Super League yielded muted performances. She deserved leeway. A calf injury ruled her out of the SheBelieves Cup this time last year, meaning she had not played an England game since November 2019. Another injury last September forced her to sit out that England training camp.
Now, though, she is back to full fitness, has rebuilt her form and against Northern Ireland, albeit a team ranked 43 places below England, put in the kind of relentless, driving performance we have come to expect.
The temporary manager, Hege Riise, was impressed: “She had a good performance today, an assist and goal, worked hard in defence, starting buildup, creating opportunities, running in behind; her presence today was good. And of course she is a leader – she leads by example on the field.”
White, who dedicated her hat-trick to her husband whose birthday she missed on Sunday, was effusive about her City teammate’s performance and form. “What she puts into the game, her ability – I appreciate the assist from her too – there’s no doubt she’s one of the best full-backs in the world,” she said. “She’s definitely coming into incredible form at the moment. We’re really lucky that she’s English and I’m really lucky that she’s a Man City player as well because I get to build a relationship with her on the pitch. She’s a phenomenal player.”
Bronze earned her 82nd cap at St George’s Park, making her one of the most experienced players involved. At the other end were the debutants. All earned praise but Ella Toone in particular caught Riise’s eye. The Manchester United forward has six goals and two assists in the league this season, forcing her way into Casey Stoney’s plans despite the arrival of the US World Cup winners Christen Press and Tobin Heath. Having come on for Arsenal’s Jordan Nobbs in the second half her movement and vision were rewarded by the players handing her the ball for the penalty from which she scored England’s sixth.
Riise said she “hadn’t seen her that much” of the 21-year-old for United but highlighted “her passing and her vision”. She also praised “her footwork, covering space – that was a good debut”.
And what had the players made of Riise, Norway’s most-capped player? “She’s lovely,” White said. “She’s a really nice person. I’m excited to see more of her ideas and what she wants to bring to this England side. More freedom, more ability to express yourself, move forward and be more direct.
“Not a crazy amount of tweaks but tweaks that will hopefully put us in really great stead moving forward when we’re playing against the best in the world. It’s a stepping stone at the moment but we’re on the right path.”