Austria 0-3 England
Goals: Ubogagu 26 mins, Stanway 72 mins, Daly 81 mins
BSFZ-Arena Maria Enzersdorf, 6pm (CET), 8th Nov 2018.
The last time that England met Austria in a ‘friendly’ international fixture was in the lead-up to UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 and in a very comfortable 3-0 win at stadium: MK in April that year, the Lionesses looked every bit the confident tournament contenders, their opponents less so. In the end both sides reached the semi-finals in Netherlands, Dominik Thalhammer’s team surprising many with their gutsy run, eventually losing to Denmark on penalties.
18 months later and it was England’s turn to travel. Austria missed out on World Cup qualification, finishing runners-up to Spain in Group 7, while England are under a new manager, gradually embracing a ‘freer’ playing style and preparing for France, next summer. Despite the differences and a less recognisable Lionesses starting line-up, in the end tonight, the outcome at the BSFZ-Arena in Maria Enzersdorf just outside of Vienna was the same.
Phil Neville’s side made a tentative start and rarely found the rhythm of passing of recent outings. This was unsurprising given the fresh nature of the team which included two debutants in midfielder Georgia Stanway and forward Chioma Ubogagu as well as other players settling into slightly unfamiliar positions – Lucy Staniforth in a deeper midfield role, for example – within a relatively inexperienced England line-up. It is these factors that made this an admirably gusty performance, if not a vintage one.
In the opening five minutes there were some slightly nervy or least unsure touches across the park but then we saw a nice overlapping run from Chioma Ubogagu around and played in by Georgia Stanway on the left, though her final ball was tame. It demonstrated the positive intent from both players, which was to pay dividends when the time came.
On nine minutes England had their first proper attempt at goal. After a tremendous turn on the edge of the box which left her defender flat-footed and beaten, skipper for the night Toni Duggan let the ball run on in one graceful movement and curled in an effort with her right foot. It went high and wide but it was a flash of quality in a fairly average opening from both sides.
Though England had more possession throughout the match and Austria never seriously threatened, that did not mean goalkeeper Mary Earps was not called into action. Her handling was again excellent when she was called upon and most shots on her goal she made look easy. One stop was a standout however, as a strike from outside the box just before the 20 minute mark had her diving and pushing it onto the post with her higher right hand.
The game burst into a flurry of activity after the aforementioned save with first Georgia Stanway letting rip, hard and low, but just wide of the upright, Austrian captain Nina Burger’s tame effort was plucked out of the sky by Earps and then Duggan had a more dangerous attempt parried away by Manuela Zinsberger (the Austrian keeper was earning her 50th cap).
Then came the gift of a debut goal for Ubogagu on 25 mins. Toni Duggan harried the centre-backs and from her pressure and challenge the ball squirmed out to Ubogagu, just outside the six yard area and she made no mistake. It may have appeared ‘lucky’ but the reward came from pressing and correct positioning.
England continued to edge the play until the halt-time whistle, while Austria had a few half-openings, with Sarah Zadrazil in particular unable to take a better touch when it mattered or to produce anything of note.
Karen Carney and Leah Williamson exhibited the most calmness and composure on the ball in the first 45 and in the second period that appeared to spread throughout the team. It felt as if there was slightly more edge and zip about England, whether that was players settling or fitness or a mixture of both. First, Mel Lawley flashed a centre across the front of goal from the right touch line but no-one was there to connect, then Georgia Stanway had another pop from long distance when a cleared corner dropped to her on 50 mins. It sailed over and she did a little jump of frustration – she was clearly more than a little keen to be the other debut scorer.
Carney found Duggan with a cute pass into the box, which the no.9 did well to time and take the shot on the run but again it was just wide of the target. It was around this time, after Austria’s double substitution, Barbara Dunst looking lively cutting and dribbling in from the left, that the hosts lifted themselves and had a relatively good rallying spell. The 1,000-strong crowd found their voice a little but England’s back line and keeper stood firm and remained unruffled.
England made their own switch of two players and they almost combined with immediate effect on 65 minutes. Stanway, who was growing into the game, played in substitute Rachel Daly, who found fellow new arrival Nikita Parris at the far post, but her header cam off the woodwork. The next real move from the Lionesses was one that moved with precision and oozed class. Starting down the right, Hannah Blundell played it to Parris who displayed cool control and then selflessly laid it off to her on-rushing City teammate Georgia Stanway. It even seemed to take a slightly awkward bounce but the young midfielder took it in her stride and half-volleyed home. Two debutants and two debut goals – that hadn’t happened since Izzy Christiansen and Danielle Carter did likewise v Estonia in September, 2015.
With England firmly in control by now, Neville looked to ‘blood’ more of his talented youngsters and so speedy 20-year-old Chloe Kelly (Everton) and highly-rated 19-year-old keeper Ellie Roebuck were introduced for their debuts. Kelly looked very bright against a tiring Austrian outfit and could have scored but instead helped set up the third, on 81 minutes. From a defensive perspective it was as poor and scrappy as they come, though Rachel Daly will argue her cheeky little heel flick of Stanway’s shot after Kelly’s cut-back deserves a slightly kinder description. A comfortable 3-0 win with an inexperienced line-up – including four debuts – against a side ranked 21, with no evident injuries and a sell-out game against Rio 2016 Olympic Games silver medallists Sweden to look forward to on Sunday
AUSTRIA: 1. Maneula Zinsberger; 5. Sophie Maierhofer (3. Yvonne Weilharter, 55 mins), 7. Carina Wenninger, 8. Nadine Prohaska (14. Barbara Dunst, 55 mins); 9. Sarah Zadrazil, 10. Nina Burger © (4. Viktoria Pinther, 76 mins), 13. Virginia Kirchberger, 15. Nicole Billa (22. Jennifer Klein, 87 mins), 17. Sarah Puntigam, 18. Laura Feiersinger, 19. Verena Aschauer
ENGLAND: 1. Mary Earps (21. Ellie Roebuck, 78 mins); 2. Hannah Blundell, 6. Leah Williamson, 5. Abbie McManus, 3. Gabby George; 8. Karen Carney, 4. Lucy Staniforth, 10. Georgia Stanway, 7. Melissa Lawley (20. Nikita Parris, 58 mins) ; 11. Chioma Ubogagu (19. Rachel Daly, 58 mins) ; 9. Toni Duggan © (23. Chloe Kelly, 78 mins)
Subs not used: 13. Carly Telford, 14. Jordan Nobbs, 15. Millie Bright, 16. Alex Greenwood, 17. Jill Scott, 18. Isobel Christiansen, 22. Beth Mead.
Referee: Lucie Salkova (CZE)
READ TONI DUGGAN & GEORGIA STANWAY’S REACTION HERE: