They may have put an end to their winless run, but the pressure is still on for Phil Neville and the Lionesses after a goalkeeping howler gifted them victory over Portugal in Setubal, writes Ella Jerman.
England secured their first win since June’s World Cup quarter-final against Norway - their first in six matches - after a huge error from Portugal goalkeeper Patricia Morais allowed Beth Mead to tap in from close-range after 70 minutes of struggling to break the deadlock.
The Lionesses, who sit 26 places above Portugal in the world rankings, would have hoped to have left with a more convincing scoreline but once again lacked a ruthless edge in front of goal in the absence of World Cup top goal scorer Ellen White.
The early stages of the first-half told the same tale as Saturday’s display against Brazil, and indeed every match since the defeat to USA in the World Cup semi-final – England were not lacking in possession or control, but a lack of urgency and cohesion meant that once again, they struggled to find a breakthrough.
England’s best chances of the first-half came through Mead, the Arsenal forward twice spinning her marker to flash a dangerous ball across the box, but Beth England, who scored her first international goal against Brazil at the weekend, was unable to get on the end of it on either occasion.
Lucy Bronze was the next to try her luck from distance, the ball falling to the Lyon right-back after a period of good one-touch play from England, but her shot went straight at Morais in the home goal.
And despite the widespread lack of approval at Bronze starting in midfield, she continued to prove a bright spark for England going forward but saw her penalty appeal waved away by referee Lucia Abruzzese when she was pulled back in the box.
The frustration began to creep in for England early in the second-half, started by their inability to break through the Portugal defence and aggravated by the opposition’s niggling tackles.
For their own part, Portugal could offer little to no threat. England had fully set up camp in the opposition territory and even though they were beginning to create chances, it just wasn’t quite falling for them.
Jodie Taylor almost had an immediate impact after coming off the bench but shot straight at Morais and Neville would have been wondering how his side weren’t ahead after the Portugal defence somehow managed to clear the ensuing goalmouth scramble.
It looked like a goal was never going to happen for the Lionesses but minutes later and the visitors could not believe their luck when Morais fumbled her catch from a corner, gifting Mead with one of the easiest tap ins she will ever score.
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) October 8, 2019
Before the goal, Neville’s desperation for victory became clear when he replaced England with Jordan Nobbs, the Lionesses boss saying earlier in the week that it was never in his plans for her to feature in Setubal with the Arsenal midfielder having only just recovered from her ACL injury.
Neville and England will be relieved they have finally put an end to their winless run ahead of next month’s Wembley showpiece with Germany, but truth is that Tuesday’s performance in Portugal was nowhere good enough to silence the critics.
Had they not been gifted a winner and had Ellie Roebuck not somehow managed to stop Marques Neto’s injury-time free-kick with her back on the line, England’s winless run could have easily continued.
Neville described Tuesday’s friendly against Portugal as a ‘must-win tie’.
They’ve achieved their main objective, but the Lionesses will need to more than paper over the cracks if they want to continue competing with the elite.