England maintained their unbeaten start to Euro 2017 qualifying courtesy of a late victory over a dogged Bosnia & Herzegovina side in Zenica.
After 86 minutes of constant pressure, the Lionesses finally found the breakthrough as Karen Carney turned home an Alex Greenwood cross at the second attempt.
The match was virtually a replica of the previous encounter between these two sides in November. England dominated possession, Bosnia banked up in their own half, showing little in the way of attacking intent, and were reliant on an exceptional performance by their goalkeeper Almina Hodzic.
Bosnia 0-1 England
UEFA Women's Euro 2017
Group 7 qualifier
Tuesday 12 April
in Zenica, Bosnia & Herzegovina
A point against England, ranked fourth in the world, would have been the most famous result in Bosnia’s short history in women’s football. But they were yet again undone by a late winner.
There were three changes from the England team that drew with Belgium on Friday as Carney, Gemma Davison and Eniola Aluko came in for Demi Stokes, Katie Chapman and Toni Duggan.
It was Carney’s first start since the bronze medal match at last year’s World Cup – and the Chelsea star was ultimately the difference.
There was only one stand in the BHFF Training Centre which housed just a few hundred fans, but they packed it out despite the mid-afternoon kick-off time – and they cheered the hosts on any time they got near the halfway line.
Samira Huren’s side showed more adventure in the opening 10 minutes than they had done in the entire 90 back in November, but they failed to ask questions of an England backline that could call upon the experience of Alex Scott, Casey Stoney and Steph Houghton.
And it was all one-way traffic once the visitors found their rhythm.
England earned a free-kick on the edge of the box just before the quarter-hour mark. Liverpool left-back Greenwood hit a firm shot goalwards which Hodzic tipped onto the bar.
Jill Scott was England’s match winner when these two sides met last year and she again posed a threat playing upfront with Aluko. The Manchester City star latched onto Fara Williams’ through ball but her angled drive was well held by Hodzic.
As the first half progressed, the visitors were increasingly camped in Bosnia’s half, and, just like in November, the opposition goalkeeper proved to be the best player on display. She caught every cross England slung into the box and even got down well to save a low shot by Aluko.
Sampson’s side monopolised possession and, as the head coach had predicted, Bosnia had all 11 players in their own half for large parts of the match, just as they did in Bristol.
This meant England had to, again, break through two lines of five and beat a goalkeeper who was in inspired form; Hodzic again saved from Jill Scott before Greenwood fired over. Her best save was from Jordan Nobbs on 58 minutes, when she tipped the Arsenal midfielder’s shot over the bar.
Sampson made a double change midway through the second half, bringing Fran Kirby and Lucy Bronze on for Williams and Stoney respectively. This meant a slight shift in formation with Jill Scott dropping into midfield and Kirby joining Carney and Davison in a three behind Aluko.
It almost paid instant dividends as Kirby found a yard of space on the left-hand side of the box but Hodzic was equal to it once more.
With the clock ticking towards the final 10 minutes, Aluko produced a neat turn on the by-line and centred towards Jill Scott. Hodzic was in the way again.
The noise increased as the home crowd started to truly believe their team could hold on for an historic draw – and Sampson made one final attacking sub to prevent that from happening as Toni Duggan replaced Alex Scott.
Less than a minute later, England had their winner.
Greenwood dug out an umpteenth cross from the left which Carney headed goalwards. Hodzic, typically, got a touch on the ball but could only tip it against the bar and Carney gobbled up the rebound.
The relief was obvious as England’s substitutes leapt from the bench to celebrate another late winner.
And Aluko could have doubled the lead in added time but Hodzic confirmed her status as player of the match with yet another stop.
The top-placed team in each of the eight groups will automatically advance to next year’s finals in Netherlands along with the six best runners-up.
And England would virtually guarantee a top-two spot in Group 7 with back-to-back wins over Serbia in June.
The home game will be played at Wycombe Wanderers’ Adams Park on Saturday 4 June.
Tickets are priced £7.50 for adults and £3.50 for children, and can be bought via the Wycombe Wanderers website or by calling 01494 441 118.
Bosnia & Herzegovina: 1 Almina Hodzic, 3 Antonela Radljic, 4 Amira Spahic (C), 5 Melisa Hasanbegovic, 6 Marija Aleksic, 7 Andela Seslija, 8 Aida Hadzic, 9 Melina Nikolic, 10 Alisa Spahic, 11 Lidija Kulis, 13 Zerina Piskic.
Substitutes: 14 Amna Lihovic for Kulis 84, 17 Alma Hadzic for Seslija 90+4.
Substitutes not used: 2 Alma Jasarevic, 12 Tamara Skoric, 15 Tatjana Stanic, 18 Maksida Islamovic, 19 Valentina Sakotic.
Bookings: Hadzic, Hodzic
Head coach: Samira Huren
England: 1 Karen Bardsley (Manchester City), 2 Alex Scott (Arsenal), 5 Steph Houghton (capt; Manchester City), 6 Casey Stoney (Arsenal), 3 Alex Greenwood (Liverpool); 7 Gemma Davison (Chelsea), 8 Fara Williams (Arsenal), 4 Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal), 11 Karen Carney (Chelsea), 10 Jill Scott (Manchester City), 9 Eniola Aluko (Chelsea).
Substitutes: 12 Lucy Bronze (Manchester City) for Stoney 67, 17 Fran Kirby (Chelsea) for Williams 67, 18 Toni Duggan (Manchester City) for A Scott 85.
Substitutes not used: 13 Carly Telford (Notts County), 14 Gilly Flaherty (Chelsea), 15 Laura Bassett (Notts County), 16 Demi Stokes (Manchester City).
Goal: Carney 86
Head coach: Mark Sampson
Referee: Simona Ghisletta (SUI)