England made it two wins from two in World Cup qualification as they eased past a stubborn Bosnia and Herzegovina side in Walsall.
Houghton finds an early goal
Picking up where they left off from last time the two met in Zenica in early 2016, England were swift to push the Bosnia side back, the visitors fast dropping into line as they had last time they were in England. Though the playing conditions in Walsall were far better than those in Bristol for England’s Euro qualifier against Zlatni Ljiljani, England took their time to find the correct key to unlock the visiting defence.
Alex Greenwood’s eighth minute direct free-kick curled over the wall before landing on the roof of Almina Hodžić’s net, the goalkeeper gearing up for a busy night. At the other end of the pitch, Siobhan Chamberlain was brought into the action, making a somewhat unexpected save to deny Lidija Kuliš after the defender had combined with Sand’s Milena Nikolić.
The visiting defence slackened enough for the Lionesses nineteen minutes in, Dan Carter’s smart cross was enough to see Hodžić punch under pressure and Steph Houghton nob home from 11 yards. The match fired into life as Nikolić raced onto a long ball at the restart, Chamberlain fast to pounce after the striker had gotten the better of Millie Bright.
Resettling well, England got straight back to working the Bosnian defence and banked midfield, white shirts flooding the attacking half as the hosts spread out across the pitch. The traffic was one-way as Fran Kirby, Nikita Parris, Toni Duggan, et all hounded and harassed the defence who did well to withstand the pressure.
Parris’ neat ball flashed across the face of goal nearly saw England double their lead, Carter’s dart into the six-yard box just mistimed as the ball slipped off of a defender and out for a corner. Whether through link-up or solo efforts, the Lionesses weren’t shy about trying their arm, Duggan the next to ask questions, her sublime turn and shoot curling just the wrong side of the post. Kirby’s cute lashed effort just before the break drew another fine save from Hodžić in stoppage time as the hosts continued to probe for a second before heading for the tunnel.
England make it comfortable
The hosts wasted no time after the restart, Parris’ far post run well timed to slip past her marker before nodding Duggan’s floated cross inside of Hodžić’s near post. With a cushion in the match, England began to relax and soon had a third, Carter influential as she was fouled just outside the area, settling Houghton up with a dead ball. The captain’s free kick swept low cross the box and into bottom corner as the ‘keeper desperately tried to readjust too late, the hosts finally comfortable against the Bosnians.
The far-left side of Hodžić’s goal suddenly under rapid fire as first Duggan slipped her strong effort just wide before Carter saw her own chance tease past the far upright.
Considerably off of the pace after the restart, Bosnia once more slipped forward, Nikolić sharp to pounce on a weak Bright back-header, the two scrapping as the Sander streaked forward and got the better of Chamberlain. With the ‘keeper out, Nikolić brought the ball back under control and fired into the open net, the whistle already blown for an [arguably] soft foul as she as Bright fought for it. The goal that wasn’t a solid reminder for the Lionesses that there wasn’t time to switch off, an upset unlikely but pride in a clean-sheet.
Kirby, calm from the spot
Three so easily could have become four for England just the hour, a pull back on Carter let go before bodies went flying to deny Kirby, Carter and Duggan in quick succession. The game began to take its toll on the visitors, the second and third goals knocking the stuffing out of them as England kept their level steady, their superior conditioning telling across the pitch.
The match became more and more stretched as the chances flowed for the Lionesses, Hodžić and her defence barely hanging on to the three-goal deficit until Aida Hadžić dragged Carter to the ground in the box and Ewa Augustyn instantly pointed to the spot. Despite missing one from 12-yards last time out for England, Kirby stepped up and sent the ball to the right side of the goal with ease, having made sure to send the ‘keeper the wrong way.
The game became more and more fractured after the fourth, Kuliš straight into the book after grabbing Jordan Nobbs by her neck, the visitors thoroughly beaten and massively frustrated as England came at them in waves. Neat touches from Carter at the death saw the Arsenal woman find space in the box, her eventual – the last of the match – too weak to squeeze in, the resulting corner easily dealt with.