“It was definitely a lot harder to miss out on SheBelieves with it being Phil’s first camp,” said England vice-captain Jordan Nobbs as she returns to the Lionesses squad after injury kept her out of last month’s trip to the USA, writes Rich Laverty.
“Whenever you play for your country it’s always devastating to miss out but if I wanted to be at this camp today I had to look after myself. I spoke to Phil a few times and I feel he believes in me and what I’ve been doing so I’m really looking forward to working with him.”
Like captain Steph Houghton, Nobbs is taking part in her first international camp since Phil Neville replaced Mark Sampson at the start of 2018 and is preparing with her team mates to face Wales on Friday night.
When the teams last met in England in October 2013, Nobbs scored the opening goal in a 2-0 victory and this time around will be coming up against former team mate Jayne Ludlow, head coach of the Wales national team since 2015.
“You soon learn with Jayne if you didn’t do something right she’d be swearing at you and telling you to pull your socks up,” said the 25-year-old.
“There was nobody more passionate at Arsenal and even though she’d get on your back a bit it was only to make sure you won and she’ll be the same with this Wales team. Jayne won’t want to lose this game and she’ll be putting fire their bellies to make sure they’re winning every tackle.”
Aside from coming up against a head coach she’s familiar with there will be plenty of familiar faces on the field too with the Wales squad made up largely of players from around the FA Women’s Super League, as well as Seattle Reign star Jess Fishlock.
“I’ve played against them before and it’s always a physical game. They do allow little pockets to open up but Jess is a fantastic player. For us, we’re just trying to be quick on the ball right now, we know Wales might bank up at times so we have to be ready for that. It’s amazing we’re going to get such a great crowd at a great stadium so we want to put on a good performance.”
Despite her role as vice-captain and the fact she’s consistently been a regular in England elevens over the last few years, Neville has made it clear that players who didn’t have the chance to impress at the SheBelieves Cup won’t be guaranteed a starting spot on Friday night.
But after joining an Arsenal side filled with top class players as a teenager, Nobbs is more than up for the test of winning back her starting spot.
“The reason I went to Arsenal at 17 was for that challenge of playing with Jayne, Chappers [Katie Chapman] and Kim [Little]. I wanted to literally get that shirt and it should be the same at national team level, nobody should have an easy ride and you should have to perform to earn your right, we have to have that mentality of being the best and the best in our position.”
Surprisingly, it wasn’t Manchester City’s Izzy Christiansen who benefited from Nobbs’ absence in America but Chelsea striker Fran Kirby who was used in a midfield three by Neville and has once again been listed as a midfielder ahead of the games against Wales and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
While it adds another element of competition for Nobbs the Arsenal midfielder has experience of herself of being tested in a different position.
“I played on the right wing for a long time under Mark [Sampson] and I think at the moment we’re trying new things out, but the team did great in the USA.”
She goes on to add, “Fran is in terrific form right now, she’s scoring left, right and centre for Chelsea and I think she’d like that higher role but you’ve got to be ready for whatever comes at you.”
Another change to the squad is the inclusion of Nobbs’ Arsenal team mate Beth Mead. The striker hasn’t been involved with England for over two years and is still waiting for her first cap despite six league goals this season.
“Beth has improved massively but she already came [to Arsenal] with that drive and goalscoring ability,” says Nobbs. “Not many players could drift through that Chelsea defence like she did on Sunday, I hope she grabs on to that shirt because at Arsenal she’s one of our set starters and our top scorer.”
Friday’s game could also see Nobbs captain her side in front of a crowd expected to be close to 30,000 if Neville decides to start with her and not throw back in current captain Houghton who has missed several games for Manchester City later with a persistent ankle problem.
Lucy Bronze took on the captaincy duty in America with both captain and vice-captain missing and Nobbs believes the Lyon defender did a great job.
“I was in touch with her and I’m sure Steph was too. She shows her captain role on the pitch anyway, she’s a great leader within the squad and she’s one of the best right-backs in the world.”
Images: Lynne Cameron for FA.