After being away for almost two weeks, the final game of the three-match North A
After being away for almost two weeks, the final game of the three-match North American tour by the England Women's team concluded on Thursday evening in the Canadian capital Ottawa with another 4-0 defeat...
Prior to departure for the 29,000 capacity Frank Clair Stadium, the Fulham Ladies defensive duo of Mary Phillip and Rachel Unitt found that they were to be the only ever-presents in the starting eleven for each of the three games, with Hope Powell selecting Sammy Britton on her 65th international appearance as captain.
Britton's selection added experience to an otherwise youthful starting XI once more, with Laura Bassett and Carmaine Walker making only their third full appearance, Kelly McDougall her fourth and Jody Handley her sixth. That experience of international football was more important than the result. Carmaine Walker formed the figurehead of the Three Lions attack, with Handley and the recalled Rachel Yankey being asked to supply the ammunition and get forward from the two flanks.
After defeating England on Monday in Montreal 4-0, the Canadians started with a confidence borne of such a result, forcing an early corner in only the second minute, which Monday's hat-trick hero - Kara Lang - blasted well over the bar. England went straight up the other end to force their first corner two minutes later, but within eight minutes, the Three Lions found themselves chasing the game.
After a Charmaine Hooper corner was only cleared as far as Kristina Kiss, the Canadian midfielder put the ball straight back into the box, and with England's back line slow to push out, Andrea Neil stole in to loop a header over Rachel Brown to open the scoring.
The Canadians are certainly notable for their strong, muscular style and in the opening stages, England were getting very little opportunity to settle on the ball, constantly being put under pressure, while Canada were confidently spraying the ball around, using the full width of the pitch.
On 17 minutes the home side doubled their lead after another sustained spell of possession. Breanna Boyd was pushing forward at will, and on another foray down the left, she whipped an inviting cross into the box which found Christine Latham racing in to glance a header into the right-hand corner of the goal, just beating Rachel Brown to the ball.
Latham missed Monday's game in Montreal after the sudden death of her father, and it was all credit to the Canadian youngster that she felt able to take to the field at all. Within two minutes she nearly doubled her own goal tally after the irrepressible Lang hit a wonderful cross-field ball all of sixty yards. Holding off the challenge of Casey Stoney she brought a wonderful save at full stretch from Rachel Brown, but the respite was only temporary. From the resulting Charmaine Hooper corner, Brown managed to palm the ball away from under her own crossbar but only as far as the head of Andrea Neil who rose highest to nod the ball home from two yards, and make the scoreline 3-0 within 21 minutes.
Carmaine Walker then had England's next best chance when sent clear by Rachel Yankey, but spotting 'keeper Le Blanc off her line, Walker could not get enough power on her lob. On 25 minutes Rachel Yankey then hit the outside of the post after terrible play by Canada's Mandy Hermus. Waiting for the ball to go out of play, Jody Handley intercepted and pulled the ball back for Yankey, who with a very tight angle couldn’t hit the back of the net.
A goal at that point would have done England's confidence no end of good but instead the first half petered out with Canada still retaining the bulk of possession in a scrappy end to the half, with Canada's Brittany Timko and England's Carmaine Walker entering the referee's notebook for two innocuous challenges shortly before the interval.
The start of the second half saw Hope Powell make two changes, with the experienced duo of Pauline Cope and Karen Walker coming on to replace Rachel Brown and Kelly McDougall.
Arguably England's best chance of the game came after 55 minutes following a Rachel Unitt free-kick 25 yards from goal. As the Canadian defence seemed to be caught totally flat-footed, the ball fell to the feet of the young Charlton defender Casey Stoney. With the goal seemingly at her mercy, Stoney seemed to get her studs caught in the third generation 'rubber crumb' surface, and the ball rolled harmlessly through to Le Blanc.
Just as in Montreal on Monday night, the start of the second half saw a muted start from the Canadians, and it was not until the 68th minute that Pauline Cope was called into action for the first time, pulling off a great diving save at full stretch to her right from Christine Latham, after another pinpoint Lang cross.
As Even Pellerud continued to rotate his squad in the second half with a full compliment of substitutions, it wasn’t until the 79th minute that Canada got onto the scoresheet for the final time and it was certainly a goal worth waiting for. Lang - who else - won the ball just inside the England half in a 50:50 challenge with Laura Bassett, but still had a lot of work to do. With Casey Stoney desperately trying to get back, and a square ball to Dianne Matheson looking the likely option, Lang powered on into the England box and placed her shot on the run, low into the bottom right corner of Cope's goal, much to the acclaim of a crowd of 17,242.
The goal seemed to satisfy the attacking instincts of the Canadians, and despite the foraging up front from Karen and Carmaine Walker for the Three Lions, there was no way through. On 87 minutes, the young Charlton Athletic midfielder Alexa Hunn - who has already appeared for England at U16 and U19 level - came on to make her first senior appearance replacing Sammy Britton, with Kristy Moore replacing Jody Handley.
As the final whistle blew, Canada's Head Coach Pellerud told TheFA.com that he felt England had acquitted themselves much better. "The performance tonight from England was better, stronger and more composed," he said. "They created more chances, and with a bit more composure around goal, could easily have scored a couple of goals tonight I felt that once more the scoreline flattered Canada, and for England, they should not be too downhearted.
"It has taken my team two and a half years to play to the tactics, tempo and power that I want, and this progression is now beginning to come through in our games and results."
Despite three defeats, and an obvious paucity of goals in their last six internationals, Hope and her coaching team can take heart from the valuable experience gained on this tour by her players, as well as having the knowledge that key personnel in the form of Kelly Smith, Kate Chapman, Fara Williams and Faye White will all soon return from injury.
The squad will return from Montreal tomorrow, with their next international fixture coming away against European champions Germany in September. TheFA.com will be there to bring you news, features and a full match report as the team continue their preparations for hosting the 2005 European Championships.
By Alex Stone in Ottawa
England: Rachel Brown (sub Pauline Cope - 46mins), Casey Stoney, Rachel Unitt, Sammy Britton (sub Alexa Hunn - 87mins), Laura Bassett, Mary Phillip, Jody Handley (sub Kristy Moore - 87mins), Vicky Exley, Carmain Walker, Kelly McDougall (sub Karen Walker - 46mins), Rachel Yankey.