Lionesses held by Wales at St Mary's

By SFC Media time Fri 06 Apr England vs Wales
Photo by James Bridle | Toni Duggan

Another chapter in the history of international football at St Mary’s was written, as England’s Lionesses visited for their FIFA Women's World Cup qualifier with Wales.

At whatever level – be it senior men, women, or under-21s – there has always been tremendous support for the national team at Southampton's ground, and this was no exception, as a vibrant crowd of 25,603 flag-waving fans packed in for Phil Neville’s first home match in charge of the side.

The game had given England a chance to leapfrog their opponents at the top of their qualifying group, on the road to the 2019 finals in France, but a dogged Welsh performance meant they had to be content with a 0-0 draw and a point. 

Ahead of kick-off, there was a a moment of poignancy, as a minute’s applause was held in memory of former England star Ray Wilkins, following his tragic passing this week.

Once under way, and backed by a vocal home support, England started the game by pegging Wales back deep inside their own half, but the visitors, as they had been in all of their games to this point in qualifying, proved difficult to breakdown.

20180406 England Women's vs Wales
Toni Duggan sends a shot goalwards for England (Photo: James Bridle)

Indeed, Jayne Ludlow’s team, who came into the match with ten points and four clean sheets from their opening four games, absorbed the early pressure and soon began to push the hosts back.

They could perhaps feel aggrieved not to have been awarded a tenth-minute lead, as a corner fell to Natasha Harding in the area, with the forward’s shot deflecting off England captain Steph Houghton, before being cleared off the line by Lucy Bronze.

With goalline technology not in use, England survived, but replays suggested it was mighty close.

The hosts, with three wins from three in qualifying coming into the fixture, enjoyed a spell of sustained pressure midway through the half, with Wales keeper Laura O’Sullivan having to readjust brilliantly to tip a deflected Toni Duggan effort wide of the the post.

If that save was impressive, her stop in the 32nd minute was simply sensational.

Jordan Nobbs unleashed a glorious, dipping shot from 25 yards that looked set to drop just under the bar, but O’Sullivan launched herself into the air and managed to tip the ball onto the woodwork with her fingertips and ensure the sides went in level at the break.

There was again little between the sides in the opening exchanges of the second half, although Melissa Lawley went close in the 57th minute, shortly after coming on as a substitute, as she curled a shot just over from 25 yards.

20180406 England Women's vs Wales
Phil Neville issues directions from the touchline (Photo: James Bridle)

Nobbs then saw a low strike from outside the box deflect wide midway through the half, as England continued to look for a way past their resilient opponents.

They nearly found it in the 71st minute, as substitute Ellen White slammed a half-volley goalwards from 18 yards, but the brilliant O'Sullivan sprang to her right to tip it away and deny the Lionesses again.

On the one occasion she erred slightly, she was deservedly spared, as she went to punch Nobbs's free-kick, only to flick it into the path of Abbie McManus at the back post. The ball came to the defender quickly, and she could only stab it into the side netting.

As the clock ticked past 90 minutes, O'Sullivan again denied England in spectacular fashion, making a flying stop from Fran Kirby's powerful drive, in what proved to be a fitting end to the evening.

ENGLAND: Carly Telford, Lucy Bronze, Abbie McManus, Steph Houghton (c) Demi Stokes, Keira Walsh, Nikita Parris (Melissa Lawley 54), Jordan Nobbs, Fran Kirby, Toni Duggan (Bethany Mead 80), Jodie Taylor (Ellen White 54).

Subs not used: Karen Bardsley, Rachel Daly, Gabrielle George, Isobel Christiansen.

WALES: Laura O’Sullivan, Loren Dykes, Sophie Ingle (c), Rhiannon Roberts, Natasha Harding, Angharad James, Kayleigh Green, Jessica Fishlock, Rachel Rowe, Hayley Ladd, Charlotte Estcourt.

Subs not used: Claire Skinner, Alice Griffiths, Nadia Lawrence, Elise Hughes, Melissa Fletcher, Hannah Miles, Helen Ward.

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