England silenced their critics in a rout against Serbia at Adams Park.
Alex Greenwood, Rachel Daly, Ellen White and Izzy Christiansen all got on the scoresheet, though Karen Carney stole the show with a hat-trick.
England make the most of a fast start
So far in this qualifying campaign, England had struggled and laboured to score goals, a team full of ability that haven’t been showing their best against low ranked European opposition. Fans have been calling for attack, attack, attack and England started brightly, trying a few shots from distance. White came close early, sweeping the ball just over the bar at a corner.
A misplaced pass gifted Serbia a throw-in in the England half, but even with Marija Radojicic lurking in front of the box they couldn’t trouble the England defence and the Lionesses were straight back on the attack. White again tried a shot from inside the box, slamming the ball into apex between crossbar and upright. Steph Houghton was next, England’s first shot on target coming from the captain at a direct free-kick. Susanne Nilsson made a first rate diving save to deny the skipper at the top corner.
Greenwood gave her side plenty of width, with the Liverpool defender whipping in dangerous crosses and working hard to get in and around the two banks of four. Greenwood linked well with former teammate White to get the ball into the box. Lucy Bronze was jonny on the stop to head at goal, but Nilsson got down to make the save.
But there was little Nilsson could do seconds later when Greenwood dashed into the box with the ball on her toe, as her low shot into the far corner evaded all. The goal had been coming, in a period that saw England playing with real desire and hunger; single-mindedly thinking goals, goals, goals.
More pressure from the hosts
Whilst England looked sharp going forward there was a sleepiness at the back, Radojicic more than willing to chase any and every ball down but Houghton and Laura Bassett were just about dealing with her advances.
Another ball out from Greenwood on the left nearly made it two for the hosts. Christiansen's glancing header set-up Bronze to fire over from close-range. A nod to the free-flow of the England attack that Bronze, once again, found herself unmarked in the box. Bronze fired at goal, as she seemed to be hell-bent on grabbing a goal, but her powerful effort flew just off target.
Serbia, as expected, were happy to bank up and absorb pressure but Mark Sampson and his team were expecting that and there was always a white shirt somewhere in space between the lines, to cut through the defence. With a slight lull in play, Fara Williams attempted a trademark shot from distance; a knuckleball forced itself back round, arrowing for the top corner but just curling wide.
The crowd were in full voice when White launched one towards the far corner, Nilsson back-peddled to claw the shot away; Christiansen could only drag her follow-up wide.
England end the half on a high
Another Williams shot from distance produced another fine save from Nilsson, the ball was dropping just under the bar but the 'keeper got across to make the save. England won a penalty in the passage of play that followed, with White hauled to the ground as she was going for the ball. Carney, hero from England’s last qualifier, was stood over the ball and dispatched the ball low to the 'keepers’ right. Nilsson stretched for it but was unable to reach the ball that smuggled itself just inside of the post.
England added a third courtesy of debutant Daly. Following a protracted spell of pressure on the right, White terrorised the defence but Nilsson on hand to make the first save, parrying the ball back at the striker. White, with the goal gapping sent the ball back across for Daly to scoop into the net.
Karen Bardsley was called into making her first save of the night immediately from the restart, Serbia attacking down the right through Nevena Damjanovic, her shot a nervous moment for the home fans but an easy catch for the City stopper.
Half time rolled around and for the first time since their match against Estonia in Tallinn, England lead at the break and comfortably; a collective breath let out across Adams Park with fans more than looking forward to the second half.
White grabs her goal
England started the second half with something to prove, peppering the Serbian goal from the off. White shirts were camped around the box, a handful of half chances culminated with Williams trying another looping shot from outside the box. The veteran midfielder thundered at goal, the ball plummeted back to earth threatening to creep in just under the bar, only for Nilsson to make yet another spectacular save to deny a certain goal.
But still the Lionesses came at their opponents, working the ball in and around the box. Christiansen showed good feet to evade her two markers and lay-off for Jill Scott, who dinked ball in to find Christiansen. She tried the spectacular with a bicycle kick, the effort was blocked but still kept alive.
The ball fell to Ellen White at the far post and, shrugging her markers off, White sent the shot to the near post, curling over the 'keeper and rippling the back of the net; a thoroughly ell-deserved goal for White who’d been working her socks off.
Rout, hat-trick complete
Serbia barely had time to settle before they were hit for a fifth. Once again unable to clear the pressure, the ball pinged around and dropped to Christiansen who managed to her the ball out of feet in time to slot under Nilsson.
But England weren’t done yet, Nikita Parris tested the defence with her first touch after coming on to replace fellow debutant, Daly. Her header at a Williams corner was saved off of the line by a combination of defence and 'keeper. The seconds ticked away and the pressure from the Lionesses only got stronger and stronger, with Carney bagging her second of the afternoon following a goalmouth scramble; Serbia just unable to clear the ball no matter how hard they tried.
Carney sealed her hat trick moments later. The ball was sent in by Greenwood at a corner, landing perfectly on Carney's head to bounce past Nilsson and into the hungry net. Serbia’s evening was not getting any easier as Gemma Davison entered the fray in the aftermath of the seventh goal.
It looked like an eighth for the Lionesses when Davison went on a scything run, red shirts falling away as she wove into the box and unleashed a low strike Nilsson dropping down and saving with her feet, happy not to be picking the ball back out of her net again. With the game soundly won the game started to wain, Serbia sitting deeper and deeper, counter attacks less and less likely, England still moved the ball around with a view to see the net rippling once again but legs were starting to tire.
There were to be no more goals in this one, the fans still wanting more but the Lionesses unable to oblige late in the day.
Finally finding the goalscoring touch
The goals had been a long time coming, since their 8-0 drubbing of Estonia last year, England had wheezed over the finish line, unable to deal with overly defensive teams, players failing to link-up, move the ball quickly or stay wide, this game finally put those demons to rest. Players played, zipping the ball round on the fine Adams Park pitch, the likes of Greenwood and Parris giving the team much needed width.
Carney inspired in midfield, always moving, wriggling away from defenders with a sixth sense of who was around her, so too was Christiansen, back from injury and keen to stamp her authority over the game, trying to be as inspirational for England as she has been for Manchester City. Whether as individuals or a team, there were no slackers in the side, everyone working hard for each other, Carney, White and Greenwood particular stand-outs in a comprehensive performance.