With a continued air of the unfamiliar to Olivier Echouafni’s Les Bleues, Mark Sampson’s Lionesses immediately switched from a back three to a back four, adapting to an unexpected set-up. With both teams missing key players, the hosts were theoretically more settled at the end of their season but with Jo Potter in the new back four and Rachel Daly as the lone striker there was a feeling of confusion in the side. Daly followed in the footsteps of many of the women to wear the no.9 in recent years, left isolated, tasked to run all night and left to battle with Wendie Renard and Laura Georges.
As France looked for a rhythm - out of favour players back in the squad and youth given a chance - England did well to keep them at arm’s reach, the visitors had most of the possession but were so flat in their approach. Their first shot wasn’t until the 18th minute as Elise Bussaglia fired one well over from 25 yards; the feat was repeated seven minutes later as the Wolfsburg player found Row Z.
The game was bity, as sloppy fouls were surrendered across the pitch. England found themselves starved of the ball as France looked like a shadow of the team they can be, keeping the ball but failing to create and sparkle on a cold Friday night in Doncaster.
The game sparked to life ten minutes before the break as Karen Carney’s poor pass was seized upon by the French attack; Lucy Bronze’s well-time last ditch tackle proved the only thing keeping Eugénie Le Sommer from taking aim. From almost surrendering a goal the Lionesses broke with pace as Carney carried the ball through midfield with Jordan Nobbs running with her on the left and Gemma Davison offering the switch to the right; the Chelsea midfielder opted to thread the ball for Daly. The weight was slightly off and although Daly was able to slip past the clump of blue shirts, Sarah Bouhaddi was able to snatch the ball before the Dash forward could take advantage.
At least it’s open?
The second-half started with far more spice than the first as the visitors were given too much space in the box as Kheira Hamraoui could only drag her shot wide. Once again England looked to hit back immediately, Bouhaddi’s handling was anything but clean as she fumbled a lofted cross intended for Daly as the ball cleared was out to Jade Moore 25-yards out. The Notts new girl attempted to take advantage of a slightly advanced Bouhaddi, her effort from distance was well hit but didn't slip under the bar.
The game wore on, and the only positive was that it was at least more open than the first but it remained bitty, with England looking more up in attack but still unable to put an entire move together. A neat ball from Carney was just right for Nobbs holding her run on the left, with Carney and substitute Nikita Parris speeding into the box Nobbs’ delivery would have been just right for Parris had she cut in in front of Bouhaddi. Nobbs was again involved moments later, on the right, as her ball was cut out just in time.
The crowd echoed a big cheer for Karen Bardsley as the City number one made her first save of the night, claiming Sandie Toletti’s hopeful effort from distance. Les Bleues found the front foot once more. Le Sommer’s driven effort from outside the box two minutes later was equally as easy for Bardsley as fresh legs looked to exploit the back-line.
With six minutes of stoppage time to see out the Lionesses looked to finish with a flourish and find a rare win against France. Seconds after coming on Toni Duggan was left frustrated as her neat finish was chalked off for handball. Parris’ deep cross was looped back for Duggan who brought the ball down with the top of her arm, with the whistle blown before the striker pulled the trigger. A late France corner ended up thumped into the side-netting at the near post, as England pushed once more on the counter before being penned back as Les Bleues looked for a late winner.