·22 September 2023
·22 September 2023
t was the steeliness and courage of a young Lucy Bronze that ensured she was destined for the very top, playing in boys’ teams until she reached the age when she was no longer allowed.
A nomadic childhood saw Bronze grow up in various parts of the North East, and her first senior football came for Sunderland. A return to the Stadium of Light in England colours offered the chance for a memorable homecoming, and she got England up and running on a chilly Friday night with a stooping header that showed such steeliness and courage is still as strong as ever.
One of England’s most storied stalwarts was on hand to glance a well-placed header into the corner from Katie Zelem’s lofted pass, setting England on their way to a hard-fought 2-1 victory over rivals Scotland.
Five years ago, the Nations League was introduced in the men’s game as a way of reducing the number of friendly matches in international football. Here was the Lionesses’ opening night, as the same competition is finally introduced to the women’s game.
England showed glimpses of brilliance at a sold-out Stadium of Light in front of 41,947 onlookers — but, for the most part, this was a long, hard slog to victory over their dogged and defensively astute neighbours.
Sarina Wiegman’s side thought they had the lead when Rachel Daly’s front post run and header saw her convert from Zelem’s corner. The celebrations were cut short when the assistant referee flagged for Chloe Kelly blocking goalkeeper Lee Gibson’s eyeline while in an offside position. The perplexed home crowd booed, but on second viewing it was a great spot.
Bronze put England ahead on 40 minutes, and in the first minute of stoppage time it was two when Daly’s cross prompted Lauren Hemp to launch herself past Rachel McLauchlan to cannon a bullet-header into the top corner. It was some goal.
But Scotland made it hard for England when they last met in the group stages of the 2019 World Cup in France, and they were back in the affair with interest when Kirsty Hanson, born in Halifax, prodded the ball in off the post with the final kick of the first half. Mary Earps was rooted, and gutted.
No Lionesses home fixture is complete without the mandatory Mexican wave and festival-like phone torches double act. They duly arrived right on cue midway through a second half which lacked the intensity and the intrigue of the first.
Many of those of an English persuasion braving the Friday night nip might have hoped for a more cohesive performance considering England’s starting XI was only three players different from that which contested the World Cup final.
Yet most of their players only recently returned to catch the tail end of pre-season at their clubs. Plus Scotland, to their credit, made it awkward for the Lionesses here. Hanson rattled the crossbar in the second half as the visitors hunted an equaliser that few would have begrudged them if it had ever arrived.