England’s 100 per cent home record this season has gone crashing to the Super Falcons of Nigeria.
England 0-3 Nigeria
Madejski Stadium Reading
Thursday, 22 April 2004
England’s 2003-04 100 per cent home record went crashing despite Hope Powell’s team controlling the opening hour of an often disjointed and physical encounter.
A first half goal by captain Rita Nwadike and a second half double by striker Perpetual Nkwocha gave the Super Falcons victory, but England will be kicking themselves for failing to press home the territorial advantage they enjoyed for two-thirds of the match.
Several players were guilty of missing chances on a night when a fourth successive home win, and another confidence boost in their build-up to next year’s European Championships finals, seemed to be theirs for the taking as they made a tremendous start.
But they could not turn pressure into goals and in the end they were well beaten, to the disappointment of National Coach Powell.
"We outplayed them in the first half," said Powell. "We played some of our best football but we just couldn’t score. Nigeria had three chances and scored from all of them!
"I was pleased with the way we kept the ball in the first half, but in the second half we looked tired - I’m not making excuses, but it’s the end of a long, hard season and there were some tired legs out there."
Powell’s team could have wrapped up the match before tiredness set in if their finishing had matched their approach play in the early stages.
After midfielder Fara Williams had driven a fourth minute free-kick into Nigeria’s defensive wall, winger Rachel Yankey sent an angled drive into the side netting then produced a good 10th minute cross which midfielder Katie Chapman volleyed wide from close range.
Six minutes later Yankey failed to put the ball into an unguarded net from right back Casey Stoney’s deep cross, then striker Kristy Moore directed a 15 yard shot past the far post following Kelly Smith’s neat through-ball.
England paid the price for their profligacy in the 24th minute, when the Super Falcons took the lead from their first meaningful attack.
Winger Vera Okolo and Nkwocha combined on the right for Nkwocha to slide the ball across the goalmouth and into the path of Nwadike, who had the simple task of tapping the ball into an empty net.
After grabbing the first goal of the night Nigeria collected their first booking on the half-hour, central defender Maureen Mmadu receiving a caution for a crude challenge on Chapman.
Several vicious tackles had already been made by the visitors, whose continuation of their over-physical approach led to midfielder Mercy Akide getting booked for a 40th minute foul on the unfortunate Chapman.
From the resultant free-kick, swung in by Williams, captain Faye White headed over the crossbar.
For a while after the break England maintained the upper hand, but Moore drilled a 10 yard shot too close to goalkeeper Precious Dede then White headed Yankey’s 48th minute cross over the top.
Nigeria stretched their lead in the 65th minute, Chapman misdirecting a header into the path of Okolo and the winger setting up Nkwocha for a run which took her past central defender Mary Phillip and goalkeeper Leanne Hall to steer the ball home.
As England hit back Moore and Chapman both had low shots saved by Dede, but the game was put well beyond them when Nkwocha hit her second goal five minutes from time.
The outstanding Okolo ran at the heart of the home defence before passing to the striker, who curled an 18 yard shot into the net off the underside of the bar.
It was a bad end to the evening for England, whose defeat by the side ranked 27th in the world followed an excellent victory over eighth-ranked Denmark.
Powell said: "The girls went into the game feeling confident after a string of good results, but it’s going to be a test of character now to bounce back from this defeat.
"We just have to build on what we produced in the first half and go into our next match aiming to get back to the sort of form we showed against Denmark."
England (4-5-1): Leanne Hall (Fulham); Casey Stoney (Charlton Athletic), Faye White (Arsenal), Mary Phillip (Fulham), Rachel Unitt (Fulham); Jody Handley (Doncaster Rovers Belles) (sub Amanda Barr (Charlton Athletic) 59), Katie Chapman (Fulham) (Rachel McArthur (Fulham) 71), Fara Williams Charlton Athletic), Kelly Smith (New Jersey Wildcats), Rachel Yankey (Fulham) (Sue Smith (Leeds United) 71); Kristy Moore (Fløya, Norway).
Substitutes: Toni-Anne Wayne (Bristol Rovers), Leanne Champ (Arsenal), Kelly McDougall (Everton), Ellen Maggs (Arsenal), Vicky Exley (Doncaster Rovers Belles), Kirsty Pealling (Arsenal), Laura Bassett (Birmingham City), Ann-Marie Heatherson (Charlton Athletic).
Nigeria: (4-5-1): Precious Dede (Ogechi Onyinanya 90); Felicia Eze Akudo Sabi 78), Florence Omagbemi, Yinka Kudaisi, Faith Ikidi; Vera Okolo, Maureen Mmadu (Effionwan Ekpo 78), Mercy Akide (Ajumatt Ameh 82), Rita Nwadike (Gift Otuwe 90), Nkechi Egbe (Stella Mbachu 61); Perpetual Nkwocha (Blessing Igbojionu 88). Substitutes: Ayisat Yusuf, Nnenna Eke, Nneka Ede.