England are “building anew,” says interim head coach Mo Marley as her team looks to cast aside thoughts of recent off-field events and concentrate on picking up six points from two 2019 World Cup qualifiers in the next week, TONY LEIGHTON reports.
The well-chronicled saga involving former head Mark Sampson, Chelsea striker Eni Aluko and The Football Association has dragged on and overshadowed everything else in the English women’s game over the past few months.
“It’s affected people and there’s been a lot of emotions,” admits Marley as she prepares to send the Lionesses out to face Bosnia & Herzegovina at sold-out Walsall stadium on Friday and then Kazakhstan at Colchester next Tuesday.
“But,” the coach insists, “we’ve got a strong group trying to focus on the future. It’s part of my job to help move us forward and we’ve made an agreement within the group at this camp that it’s about building anew.
“We’re here to help us qualify for the World Cup – that’s our job, that’s all we’re focusing on and we leave everything else to one side. We can’t have any other priorities. The camp’s been brilliant and that’s credit to everyone involved.”
England, third in the world rankings, thrashed 25th ranked Russia 6-0 in their first qualifier so will be expected to comfortably beat a Bosnian side who sit in 61st place and likewise Kazakhstan, at 66th the group’s lowest ranked nation.
England have never before faced Kazakhstan but they twice met Bosnia & Herzegovina in Euro 17 qualifying – and despite totally dominating both games they had to settle for a 1-0 win each time against ultra-defensive opposition.
Marley had no involvement in either match but vice-captain Jordan Nobbs recalls the frustrations that England went through – and reckons the Bosnians are quite likely to employ similar tactics at the Banks’s Stadium.
“Teams like this often drop off from the start of the match and we know that might happen,” says the 24-year-old Arsenal midfielder, “so we’ve got to be patient on the ball and make sure we take our chances.
“It can be very difficult when teams bank up on you, but if that’s the way they play again then we’ll have to move the ball quickly, get our wide players in one v one situations and create some goalscoring opportunities.”
When Nobbs wins her 50th cap on Friday it will be as part of a squad that has a number of far more experienced internationals than herself but also some new kids on the block, three of them on their first senior call-ups.
Keira Walsh, Leah Williamson and Gabby George – the latter drafted in following Casey Stoney’s withdrawal through injury – have been selected by Marley, who knows them all well through working with them at England Under-19 level.
Marley says: “Keira and Leah have deserved their call-ups, but we’ve also had youngsters like Jess (Carter) and Mel (Lawley) recently brought into the squad and now Gabby too because of her late call-up.
“We’re trying to integrate young players into the squad while we’ve got a lot of experienced ones in there as well. We’ve got players with 100-plus caps and the youngsters can learn so much from those vastly experienced internationals.”
Each of the youngsters is likely to start on the substitutes bench on Friday, though in last month’s 1-0 friendly international defeat by France – Marley’s first game in charge – Lawley made her debut as a sub.
Four days after the Bosnia game England take on a Kazakhstan team that may be first time opponents but will not be an unknown quantity following Marley’s close scrutiny of them since the start of the qualifying campaign.
“We’ve had scouts check them out and got some good detail from their defeats against Wales and Bosnia,” she said. “That’s all been assessed and so we’ve got all the information we need – now it’s about how best we make use of it.”
England squad: Bardsley (Manchester City), Chamberlain (Liverpool), Earps (Reading), Telford (Chelsea), Bonner (Liverpool), Bright (Chelsea), Bronze (Lyon), Carter (Birmingham City), George (Everton), Greenwood (Liverpool), Houghton (Manchester City), Stokes (Manchester City), Christiansen (Manchester City), Nobbs (Arsenal), Potter (Reading), Scott (Manchester City), Walsh (Manchester City), Williams (Reading), Williamson (Arsenal), Carney (Chelsea), Carter (Arsenal), Duggan (Barcelona), Kirby (Chelsea), Lawley (Manchester City), Parris (Manchester City), Taylor (Arsenal).
England v Bosnia & Herzegovina (Banks’s Stadium, Walsall FC, Friday 24 November, 7.05pm KO)
England v Kazakhstan (Weston Homes Community Stadium, Solchester Utd FC, Tuesday 28 November, 7.05pm KO)*
Both matches are live on BBC Two and BBC Radio 5Live Sports Extra.
* Limited tickets for England v Kazakhstan are still available at £1 for children and concessions and £10 for adults. Tickets can be bought via www.TheFA.com/Tickets or by calling 01206 755 161.