Lionesses draw 2-2 with USA to set up winner-takes-all Japan clash

Steph Houghton

England Lionesses drew with World Champions USA last night in their second game of the SheBelieves Cup. With some lingering negatives in an otherwise positive game, Nerve Sport looks at the 2-2 result and identifies where England need to improve.

The Lionesses kicked off their second game of the SheBelieves Cup in front of 22,125 fans in Nashville yesterday evening.

Up against the number one ranked team in the world, spectators were in for a treat – and this game did not disappoint.

In a frantic end-to-end game with some exceptional goals, points were shared at the full-time whistle.

Steph Houghton’s curling indirect free-kick came to England’s rescue after falling behind to a wonder volley from USA’s Megan Rapinoe.

After an uninspired first half came an exhilarating second half with each side playing for victory.

England led for the most part after Nikita Parris scored from another exquisite Fran Kirby assist.

But, woeful defending from the Lionesses allowed USA back into the game, Tobin Heath scoring the equaliser.

In a game England should’ve won on the night, they just lacked the defensive discipline to do so.

Points shared

Manager Phil Neville made four changes to the starting XI who started the game against Brazil.

Demi Stokes, Rachel Daly, Toni Duggan, and Karen Bardsley all came in for Alex Greenwood, Izzy Christiansen, Karen Carney, and Carly Telford with Lucy Bronze moving into midfield.

As has been the story of USA’s SheBelieves Cup thus far, they started the match on the front foot.

In fact, merely two minutes into the game they almost scored instantly from a corner but for a goal-line clearance from Abbie McManus.

Much like the game against Brazil, England didn’t seem to know how to cope with the pressure of USA’s high-pressing line.

With the ball seamlessly going between the American attack of Heath, Alex Morgan and Rapinoe, the English backline struggled to get to grips with the first five to ten minutes or so.

Despite coming into the game eventually, they were immediately pegged back by a Rapinoe wonder strike.

Daly’s header fell to the feet of Rapinoe who chested the ball down to volley it into the top corner. The strike left keeper Bardsley dead in her tracks.

It took just four minutes, however, for England to level the scoring.

Careless defending from the USA backline prompted the opportunity to hit back from an indirect free kick just inside of the penalty area.

A slight roll of the ball allowed Houghton to curl the ball into the bottom corner of the goal with sublime technique – game on.

But yet another lacklustre first half from Neville’s side left a lot to be desired from the second half.

And in typical England fashion, they came out in the second half and delivered with passion, grit and determination.

It didn’t take long to hit the ground running for the Lionesses, who took the lead just seven minutes after the break.

It was Parris who got the goal – but it was all about the assist. Bronze rolled the ball into the path of Kirby and, in one sweeping motion, the midfielder lifted the ball over the USA defence into the feet of her teammate.

Perhaps it was the second goal, or the fact it was now the second half, but England really started to find their groove going forward and threatened to add to their lead.

The best of those chances fell to Ellen White, but her shot flew just wide of the top corner.

In the most shambolic of ways, England then conceded the equaliser. It came from a messy corner with Tobin Heath getting the final touch to make it 2-2.

The remainder of the game was end-to-end stuff with both teams throwing everything forward for that elusive winning goal.

But it just wasn’t to be. Points were shared evenly and left England joint top of the SBC table, level on points with Japan.

Standout performers 

Despite it being a well-drilled team performance, there were a few England players who stood out across the 90 minutes played last night.

Abbie McManus 

With minimal international appearances under her belt, McManus looked like a seasoned professional out in Nashville. Especially considering it was against the World Champions.

McManus always appeared to be in the right position at the right time – a testament to how well she followed and executed the game plan.

As well as the goal line clearance, she managed to keep one of the best players in the world relatively quiet in the form of Alex Morgan.

She made a real statement to Phill Neville with that performance tonight, especially with the World Cup on the horizon.

Keira Walsh 

It’s safe to say that England is running thin on midfield options with Jordan Nobbs, Jade Moore, and Jill Scott all out injured.

They’ve even started playing right-back Lucy Bronze in the centre.

But then up steps Manchester City’s Walsh. Another one with little senior international experience, Walsh truly introduced herself to the big stage last night.

It was always going to be difficult for England’s two-man midfield to avoid being overrun by USA’s three-man midfield, but Bronze and Walsh handled it exceptionally well.

The pair complemented each other through their differed playing style.

Walsh is more the holding midfield player who manages to spread herself across the pitch to be tackling, intercepting and picking passes from just about any position at any stage of the game.

She could very well be looking at a place in the World Cup squad to France in the summer.

The not so good

The most frustrating part of this England side is their inability to defend set pieces, whether that be corners or free kicks.

On more than one occasion, the US had free headers and were unlucky to capitalise on the shambolics at the back.

But the worst of all came when Heath equalised for USA late on from a corner. Each England player was throwing themselves in and around where the ball was just hoping for the best.

Goalkeeper Karen Bardsley struggled with commanding her area. As a result, the defense lacked structure which was their biggest downfall.

With Millie Bright to come back from injuries, set pieces could yet improve but for now, Neville and his side need to work on defending them.

From the good, the bad to the totally bizarre: no substitutions were made until around 75th minute. Normally, when something doesn’t seem to be working on the pitch you look to the bench and try to change things up.

Maybe it was disguised by the fact they were ahead for the most part of the second half, but the unwillingness to bring on fresh players is questionable from Neville. It could very well have cost them all three points.

When the first change did eventually come, it was Kirby who made way. Despite that moment of magic for Parris’ goal, the Chelsea attacker wasn’t in the game much and for no fault of her own.

Having assisted three of the four goals England has scored this tournament, it’s a wonder why Neville isn’t insistent on building this side around her.

She’s key in the success of this side and when everything is going through her, everything is going right. But playing a two-man midfield means she isn’t free to roam – restricting her ability to always be free for a pass.

In the last two games, bar the Brazil second half when she assisted two goals, England have struggled to get her in the game. Neville may want to consider the structure of his team, using the World Cup warm-up games to experiment and find his best team.

For now though, all eyes are on Tuesday’s clash with Japan. Both sides have won one and drawn one, setting up a SheBelieves finale of sorts with the winner taking all.

The game will kick-off at 10.15 pm and be shown live on the BBC.