Leah Williamson may just have saved her manager’s job after her late deflected strike earned England a sluggish 3-2 victory over Czech Republic – an early Christmas present for Phil Neville in snowy Ceske Budejovice, writes Ella Jerman.
Since making the World Cup last four, England have been on a miserable run that has seen them win once in seven, with Neville under-fire after a series of lacklustre performances, punctuated by repeated defensive howlers.
And it was more of the same as the Lionesses conceded inside the opening five minutes, Tereza Szewieczkova with the Czech opener, but the setback was quickly answered by goals from Bethany England and Beth Mead.
Loose defending provided Szewieczkova with the perfect opportunity to equalise before half-time and England, lacking creativity throughout, looked unlikely to get the win they so desperately wanted.
In the end, it was an unlikely hero who saved the day – Williamson, whose late deflected shot proved the matchwinner after another underwhelming and sloppy performance from the Lionesses.
Much like the rest of their autumn fixtures, tonight’s friendly was deemed a must-win for the Lionesses and it looked as though they had found the perfect response to Saturday’s defeat to Germany when they found the net in the fifth minute, but Chelsea forward England was flagged offside.
They started brightly but England’s recurring weaknesses quickly started creeping to the fore, shaky defending allowing Szewieczkova to break through the backline and lift the ball over Carly Telford to give the hosts an unexpected lead.
Going 1-0 down to the world’s 36thranked side is the last thing you need when under pressure, but the Lionesses weren’t willing to hit the panic button.
The one thing Neville would have wanted his side to show was character, and that they did, England and Mead scoring within three minutes of each other to put the visitors in control.
England nearly grabbed their third when defender Millie Bright – who is yet to score for her country – got to a low cross at the back post but her stretched effort came back off the crossbar.
Five minutes of comfort was all the Lionesses had to enjoy as they fell victim to another one of their usual mistakes – failing to deal with a loose header – and Szewieczkova latched onto the loose ball and blasted it into the top corner to double her tally and send the sides in level at the break.
It was a sluggish start to the second-half from both sides and it took until the hour-mark for England to draw the first real opening, but Mead’s header was disallowed after Jill Scott had fouled Eliska Sonntagova.
The introduction of 19-year-old Lauren Hemp, who came on in place of Nikita Parris, brought a much-needed injection of tempo to the England frontline and she twice saw her efforts spilled by Barbora Votikova in the Czech goal.
Seemingly happy to settle for a draw, the Czech backline remained watertight. They weren’t conceding chances, let alone goals, forcing Bright to have a go from distance but her shot was well saved by Votikova.
Trying their luck from distance was the only way England were going to get their needed victory and it was Williamson who prevailed, the Arsenal defender scoring her first international goal just when her country needed it most.