A series of missed opportunities will give Hope Powell food for thought as her England side failed to cut the mustard in Norwich
England 0-1 Nigeria
Nationwide Senior Women's International
8.05pm kick off at Carrow Road, Norwich City FC
A series of missed opportunities will give Hope Powell food for thought as her England side failed to cut the mustard in Norwich on Tuesday night and went down by one goal to a physically strong Nigerian side.
England, on top for large portions of the game, couldn't turn the possession into goals, and Powell will know that if England are to get what they want from their World Cup qualifier with Iceland, they'll need to be more ruthless in when it come to converting chances.
The current African Champions began this match with strength and determination, like a group of players who've not even seen their green shirts for a long time, let alone played in them. And that was exactly the case.
In their first International match for 18 months, save for a friendly against Fulham five days before this encounter, the Nigerian's set out to make up for lost time and seemingly without fear for their own personal safety.
Hungry, but not cynical, challenges were going in as the visitors looked to impose themselves on England from the whistle and make the football their own and Powell's Lions found them difficult to break down, none more so than Karen Walker who from the second minute played with a bandaged head.
And their power resulted in the first scare for England as the lightening pace of Stella Mbachu, one of the few Nigerian's who you perhaps wouldn't bet on in a street brawl - though you may still lose a couple of quid, caught out Casey Stoney and as the Arsenal youngster tried in vein to get back, the girl in green bobbed and weaved onto her right foot to send a fierce drive which Rachel Brown could only beat away.
As the crunching tackles kept coming, especially from the dogged Florence Omegbemi - who would later see yellow for a tangle with the equally competitive Katie Chapman, the gate looked closed to England. However, as the half grew older the home side began to settle into their stride of neat passing moves scratching at the door like a cat who knows a warm beanbag is inside.
With 20 minutes gone Everton striker Amanda Barr had had enough of the African's trying to bulldoze their way past as she showed what type of tools she had at her disposal, nicking the ball from the Nigerian number 5 Ngozi Anyadiegwe on the edge of the box to almost pave a way for Rachel Yankey, shortly after she'd had her own way to goal halted by a headed clearance from the Ugochi Opara - complete with her Eric the Eel style swimming cap - in the Nigerian's goal.
England then began to see most of the ball with Vicky Exley and Chapman taking control of the middle third, but their attacking prospects were continually cut short by the speed and strength of the Nigerian back four.
A new tactic was needed and Rachel Yankey's corner on 24 minutes revealed a possible, if unexpected, weakness as Nigeria failed to deal with the high delivery. In the crowded box the ball dropped to Barr, via a Chapman knock down, but her drive flashed over.
England looked confident and the record crowd for an England women's friendly raised their voices in recognition and were almost rewarded when a crisp one-touch move just outside the area gave Exley and sight on goal and the Belle from Doncaster was unlucky not to see her deft outside-of-the-boot chip fall inside the post.
The momentum was now with England as they continued to cause concern to Nigerian coach Sam Okpodu, and from another high cross, this time from the right boot of debutante Kristy Moore. Walker was up well six yards from the goal to guide down to Chapman making her way unmarked into the area. The Fulham midfielder opted for placement over power and a green sock deflected the ball to the feet of her club mate Yankey who steered goalward only to see her effort flicked wide. The resulting corner directed to the far post was met again by Walker but this time the side netting was all that rippled.
Australian Kristy Moore had a chance of her own to break the deadlock for her adopted country, but her chip didn't go down under the bar, instead taking a lick of paint with it into the stand behind the goal.
England were by now looking less concerned by the Africans as the efforts of striker Mercy Akide only gave her defensive colleagues a bit of respite rather than threatening the scoreline, but they were again stretched just before the break when Walker's headed flick from yet another dangerous Yankey set piece beat everyone apart from Anyadiegwe on the line.
The half time whistle was music to the visitor's ears and when they re-appeared, their earlier vigour returned with them, but it wasn't until 10 minutes into the second half that they gave substitute 'keeper Leanne Hall something to think about, and then it was like picking apples for the new Leeds signing.
Three minutes later Mbachu and Perpetua Nkwocha combined well on the left before the later sent a bending shot from distance just high and wide of the far upright.
England were still threatening but their lack of a killer blow was again missing when on 63 minutes Barr played an low ball in to the feet of Jody Handley, on at half time for Walker, but with time and space in abundance the Doncaster forward failed to control and knocked well over.
And England were to regret their impotence in front of goal when only 3 minutes later Patience Avre latched onto a through ball, and while the English defence stood appealing for a hand ball, the ref waved play on and Avre sent the ball packing in to the empty corner of the net beyond the reach of Hall.
The Three Lions could have fallen even further behind on 70 minutes when a cross that should have been easy for Hall spilled from her grasp to the waiting feet of Nkiru Okosieme, but with more instinct than intention the Charlotte Eagles player knocked the ball towards the grounded Hall and over it went for a corner.
The game continued with its seesaw pattern as England probed for the equaliser. This time the earlier Barr-Handley partnership was reversed when the Everton striker found herself with the ball at her feet and her back to goal. Taking her time in the space afforded to her, she turned but when a thunderbolt was expected only a shower came down and her tame strike was gathered by Opara at the second attempt.
The balance was tipped further into England's favour as Florence Omagbemi was shown a second yellow for cutting Carly Hunt down to size on the right wing and the delivery from the dead ball was also narrowly wide from levelling matters. That yellow card sparked something off in the goalscorer as she lost patience with Tara Proctor, this time on the other flank, and upended the Charlton midfielder to add her name in the ref's notebook.
But it wasn't meant to be for England as, even with a girl advantage, they still could not find the cutting edge to give the 8,000 plus fans something to cheer.
1 Rachel Brown, 2 Casey Stoney, 3 Rachel Unitt, 4 Vicky Exley, 5 Mary Phillip, 6 Faye White, 7 Kristy Moore, 8 Katie Chapman, 9 Karen Walker, 10 Amanda Barr, 11 Rachel Yankey
Subs: 12 Fara Williams (Exley 45mins), 13 Leanne Hall (Brown 45mins), 14 Julie Fletcher (Unitt 66mins), 15 Jody Handley (Walker 45mins), 16 Rachel McArthur (Stoney 66mins), 17 Carly Hunt (Yankey 66mins), 18 Tara Proctor (Moore 66mins), 19 Sammy Britton, 20 Leanne Champ
12 Ugochi Opara, 16 Ropo Ojo, 6 Kikelomo Ajay, 17 Florence Omagbemi, 5 Ngozi Anyadiegmi, 19 Effioanwah Ekpo, 13 Nkiru Okosieme, 18 Patience Avre, 7 Stella Mbachu, 4 Perpetua Nkwocha, 10 Mercy Akinde
Subs: 2 Stella Godwin, 3 Martha Terhemba, 8 Tosin Otubajo, 11 Otasowie Ezomogiene, 14 Ajumai Ameh, 15 Maureen Mmadu (Avre 80mins), 22 Ogechi Onyinanya, 21 Una Nwajei, 22 Layla Young