0-1, min. 74, Taylor.
Netherlands 0-1 England: Lionesses finish year with a win

Netherlands 0-1 England: Lionesses finish year with a win

England ended 2016 in very positive fashion.

Sophie Lawson

A solitary strike from Jodie Taylor was enough for England to end 2016 with a 1-0 win over Euro 2017 hosts, the Netherlands.

Working the width

Having kicked off England kept the ball from their hosts during the opening exchanges but at the first sniff the Oranje were off with Shanice van de Sanden running full pace down the right flank, cruising past Demi Stokes before hooking a cross to the back post. With Karen Bardsley beaten, Lineth Beerensteyn arrived into the box on the button, her attempted volley an air-shot that would have surely given the hosts the lead had she connected.

An early injury to Renee Slegers saw the Linköping attacker go off, her belated replacement Ellen Jansen. Even with the hosts down to ten for five minutes it wasn’t able to tell as they stayed firm when England pressed and continued to look dangerous out wide, van de Sanden’s pace making it impossible to live with her.

If recently criticised for being too conservative the Lionesses set out to attack but an almost unfamiliar system made it hard for them to gel, central players forced out wide and general lack of rhythm halting them in their tracks. A regimented Dutch side that dropped into formation when England had the ball did nothing to help the visitors as they had to fend off continual advances from van de Sanden and co’. Loes Geurts called into action but untested as Karen Carney lashed a shot from outside the box, the players up with her static, options at a premium.

Crowd spur hosts on

With a warm and noisy crowd behind them Holland attacked with numbers, wide players making themselves available, orange beginning to smother white in the final third. The game clear preparation for the 2017 Euro Championships, both teams teleported themselves to a balmy July night in the same country, a place in the next round on the line; this was no friendly.

Even though three of the four of the backline play together at club level they seemed out of sync, the line pushed too high and acres of space to be exploited. Lucy Bronze the hero for the visitors with two body-blocks to deny the rampant home attack, Lieke Martens paying the price for an extra touch. Bardsley’s goal under threat and England failing to respond and reshape or drop deeper, their own attacks still disjointed. The ball would, however, not drop for the hosts despite a number of good half chances and Bardsley kept her clean sheet until half-time.

The Dutch were out of the blocks quickly after the break, Bardsley immediately called into action to gather a low ball with orange shirts bearing down. But still the hosts struggled to put their chances away, a free kick in range was no trouble for the defence and it was routinely pinged out as far as van de Sanden, her volley well over the top of the bar.

Taylor turns the tide

Mark Sampson made an uncharacteristically early sub in the second-half, Jodie Taylor brought on for a quiet Jill Scott, the manager hoping for positive change up front with the introduction of a natural number nine. Her presence showed early signs of promise, the visitors with more penetration in the Dutch half all of a sudden, two unspectacular corners followed before Toni Duggan cut in front from the left and let rip. Her shot lacking the requisite venom was just about dealt with by Geurts, the ball slipping behind and under the PSG keeper but her defence on hand to clear the danger.

Having had a quiet spell the hosts were swift to assert themselves once more, van de Sanden still very much with the pace to beat Stokes served the ball up on a plate for Jansen but Steph Houghton did well to smash the shot behind for a pingy corner. Route one was back open and it provided the best route to goal, as Taylor latched onto a deep ball, her desire to get forward propelling her past the last woman, a cute dink over the advancing keeper enough to drop the ball into the open net. For Holland, missed opportunities well beginning to tell once more.

Sampson’s next two changes spoke of a respect for his opponents, Gilly Flaherty and Fara Williams proving a deeper defensive strength against a team that always seemed to be on the verge of opening their account for the evening. The game wore on and hosts began to find their frustrations, niggly fouls slowing the pace down, much to England’s gain but the boisterous crowd weren’t about to desert their players and pushed Holland every step of the way. Stefanie van der Gragt joined the attacking line but could only blast an effort from outside the box well over Bardsley’s bar before the keeper was booked for time wasting.

If the shock defeat to Belgium had left the Oranje on unsure footing it didn’t show, the hosts playing as if on the back of a hearty win over worthy opponents, spurred on by their home fans Holland professed to be the real deal. With wholesale changes over the course of the year, the team is a world away from that of 2015, players still adapting to get used to one another which would account for their stuttery nature in front of goal. However, a team they promised to be, even missing some of their more noteable stars Arjan van der Laan’s team looked ready and able, just in need of a finisher, Vivianne Miedema not present for either November friendly.

For England, it’s another with and another tick in a box but there can be no question that given the players available this team is under-performing and unless real changes start to happen their spell at Euro 2017 will be brief.