We are edging ever closer to the European Championship next year and England still appear to be going backwards as the USA delivered another stinging reality check to Phil Neville’s side in the SheBelieves Cup.
There is no need to panic, not yet. The Americans will not be in the Euros next summer for a start, but neither should anyone be complacent about what has happened since that joyful, thrilling World Cup campaign. Two wins in eight and well beaten in Orlando.
England are a team stuck in reverse, not learning from mistakes, still weak in the same areas and still not comfortable whenever they pass the ball out from the back. They are a team playing on the edge, neither calm or composed and without their best player, Lucy Bronze, they lacked the power and strength to ruffle the USA.
The statistics are starting to make grim reading for Neville. England have dropped to sixth in the world ranking and this was their sixth defeat in 11 games against teams ranked in the top eight. They have won just one of those 11 games.
That is not form that is going to win a major tournament and this was not a performance that suggests the USA have anything to worry about, even if the next time they face a team coached by Neville, it will be Team GB in the Olympics.
This was not awful, by any means, but neither was it great. It just felt like so many other underwhelming outings.
England looked harassed, constantly at stretch, perpetually under strain. They held on in the first half, but it was touch and go, their vulnerability masked by last ditch tackles and interventions.
They never really settled into a rhythm and there were far too many occasions when, under minimal or no pressure, they gave the ball straight back to the Americans.
The USA were not at their best either, certainly not precise or clinical enough in the final third, but this is a pre-season tournament for them. England are in the middle of their domestic campaign.
England attacked in flashes. Almost all their best work came down the left where Lauren Hemp gave a glimpse of her vast potential. Certainly, USA right back Kelley O’Hara did not enjoy the experience, twisted one way and then the other before Hemp’s cross should have found Jill Scott but the midfielder was too flat footed in the box.
From another whipped ball, Ellen White headed over. When the ball was in the air, Hemp won it and left O’Hara in crumpled heap on the floor complaining to the referee. No foul was given.
Hemp also came closest to a goal, a flicked header at the near post from Georgia Stanway’s corner would have crept in, only for Alyssa Naeher to get a vital touch, Scott scooping the ricochet over the bar.
England did not move the ball quickly or precisely enough to test the USA defence, although one superb pass from Keira Walsh – the other stand out first-half performer for England – did send in Nikita Parris, but she had strayed marginally offside before her header was saved by the goalkeeper.
It was OK from England, but the USA looked stronger and faster and constantly found space inside the full backs. Too many times they threatened in those areas, Rose Lavelle probing, Tobin Heath and Christen Press finding too much room to get their heads up and pick out passes.
Eventually, England would concede, eventually their loose passing would be punished in transition, but not before captain Steph Houghton left her studs on Lindsey Horan with a naughty looking, feet-off-the-ground challenge. It felt a little like an old grievance was being settled, Horan celebrating wildly next to Houghton after her missed penalty in the World Cup semi-final had prevented taking the game into extra time.
Horan might have opened the scoring in the first half, but was denied twice by superb saves from Carly Telford, but a US goal was coming and it did, the tournament hosts scoring twice in as many minutes at the start of the second half.
A strong first half, but not enough to secure a result.
We move on to ðŸ‡¯ðŸ‡µ this Sunday. pic.twitter.com/kOrHKZjFDw
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) March 6, 2020
Again there was too much space, the pockets between defence and midfield were too big for the USA to operate in, and the runs in behind the full backs too easy to make. Christen Press made it count, looking up, getting her body into the perfect shape and whipping a curling shot beyond Telford, with enough bend to bring it back inside the far post.
It was a brilliant strike and a deserved lead which was doubled almost immediately as the veteran Carli Lloyd was also given too much space, this time inside the England box, and she slotted in the second.
England were being outplayed. The USA had been the better, more threatening team in the first half and now they had the scoreboard dominance to prove it.
There were the occasional moments from England, Parris forcing a good save from Naeher, although Julie Ertz was only denied a third goal for the USA by an offside flag. The USA had 29 shots compared to England’s 11. It was clear who was the better side, from first whistle to last.