Hope Powell's England team ran out 2-1 winners against Scotland in Thursday night's friendly
England 2-1 Scotland
An own goal deep into stoppage time gave England a hard fought victory over a battling Scotland side as Hope Powell’s team continued their winning sequence ahead of Women’s Euro 2005.
Hibernian left back Julie Smith inadvertently deflected substitute Eniola Aluko’s cross just inside the near post to seal England’s seventh victory in eight matches and their 18th in 19 games against the Scots since the two nations first met in 1972.
It was heartbreak for Smith, her colleagues and new manager Anna Signeul, though the former Sweden Under-19 coach admitted: "England were the better side.
"We were very unfortunate, but we are not at the same level as England and I think they can do great at Euro 2005."
Just over six weeks ahead of the European finals, National Coach Powell was happy with her team’s performance despite the fact that it took them until the fourth minute of stoppage time to clinch victory.
"We performed well," she said. "In the first half we weren’t as clinical as we have been, but in the second half we played particularly well and got the result.
"Scotland made it very difficult for us and it was certainly a tough contest, but it was one we needed ahead of the Euro finals.
"The girls fought to the wire – they believed they could win, they drove each other on and really went for it."
One downside for England was an injury to Charlton Athletic midfielder Katie Chapman, who had to be substituted at half time through what was later confirmed as a broken hand that could make her a doubt for 2 May’s FA Cup final, in which the Addicks are set to meet Everton.
The former Fulham star had played a prominent part in a bright England start that saw Everton midfielder Fara Williams have a 20 yard shot saved by Hibernian goalkeeper Gemma Fay after barely a minute’s play.
But Scotland responded well, Julie Fleeting then Glasgow City winger Suzanne Grant forcing Birmingham keeper Jo Fletcher into goal line saves.
England then took control, however, and after Fay had kept out a 15 yard shot from Chapman the home side went ahead in the 27th minute.
Pressure by Birmingham winger Rachel Yankey and Everton striker Jody Handley led to the ball breaking loose for Barr, who struck a first-time shot from a tight angle into the top far corner of the net.
As England looked to increase their lead captain Faye White had a glancing header kept out by Fay from Yankey’s 40th minute free-kick.
But as play moved into first half stoppage time, a push by White on her club colleague Fleeting resulted in a 20 yard free-kick which the prodigious striker curled home for her 93rd goal in 82 internationals.
Three minutes into the second half Barr had a great opportunity to restore England’s lead. But from a penalty awarded after White’s goalbound header had been handled by right back Rhonda Jones, the Birmingham striker saw her low spot kick well saved by Fay.
"I changed my mind at the last minute," Barr said when describing her spot-kick miss. "Fara asked to take it, but I was feeling confident and I was happy to take the responsibility.
"As the game was about to end I was ready to cry though, so at the final whistle I ran up to Eni to celebrate after she’d got us the winner."
Charlton striker Aluko had replaced Barr as substitute and produced several good runs before finally forcing the key moment of the match.
Between Barr’s penalty miss and the winning goal there had been little serious threat to either goal, though England certainly enjoyed most of the possession and held the territorial advantage.
They pressed hard in the closing stages and, with virtually the last action of the match, were rewarded for their persistence with Smith’s own goal.
Powell said: "The girls showed at the end that they have a belief they can win games and that’s a good signing going into the Women’s Euro 2005.
"But once you’re in the tournament it’s a different thing, and we have to make sure we are mentally as well as physically attuned when we go into the Euros."
Before they kick off the Women’s Euro 2005 Powell’s team have just two friendlies remaining, the next of them against Norway at Barnsley on Friday, 5 May.
England (4-3-3): Fletcher (Birmingham City); Scott (Birmingham City), White (Arsenal), Phillip (Arsenal), Unitt (Everton); Williams (Everton), Westwood (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Chapman (Charlton Athletic) (sub Asante (Arsenal) HT); Handley (Everton) (sub Carney (Birmingham City) HT), Barr (Birmingham City) (sub Aluko (Charlton Athletic) 57), Yankey (Birmingham City).
Scotland (4-4-2): Fay (Hibernian); Jones (Florida Atlantic University), Kerr (Doncaster Rovers Belles), Dieke (Soccerlocker); Cook (Hibernian), Sneddon (Kilmarnock), Love (Kilmarnock) (sub Burns (Hibernian) 75), S. Grant (Glasgow City) (sub N. Grant (Doncaster Rovers Belles) HT); Fleeting (Arsenal), Malone (Hibernian) (sub Ferguson (Hibernian) 75).