Bronze and Hemp head England to winning start against Scotland

The bald statistics show that England won again with headed goals from Lucy Bronze and Lauren Hemp seeing off Scotland but Sarina Wiegman will be much more concerned with the subtext.

The Lionesses’ manager looked on inscrutably as her team failed to convince and Scotland’s Kirsty Hanson proved the game’s outstanding individual.

Quite apart from scoring a consolation goal, the Aston Villa winger succeeded in unnerving Bronze to the point where the customarily swashbuckling Barcelona right wing-back at times looked uncharacteristically terrified of advancing. On another night Hanson and her technically fast improving teammates would have been rewarded with at least a draw.

“We’re very disappointed we didn’t win,” said Scotland’s manager, Pedro Martínez Losa, whose midfield controlled large tracts of the second half following a tentative opening to this first women’s European Nations League fixture. “I am very proud of my team. We competed at the same level as England overall.”

In mitigation, it is barely a month since the Lionesses lost the World Cup final to Spain in Sydney and they looked in need of a significantly longer rest. “I’m very happy with three points but in some moments we were struggling a bit,” said Wiegman. “In the second half we had problems keeping the ball and made some poor decisions.”

Given that one of the prizes available for succeeding in a fiendishly complicated competition that represents a stepping stone towards qualification for Euro 2025, is a place in next summer’s Paris Olympics, a few of Martínez Losa’s players could have been forgiven for harbouring a certain conflict of interest.

Wiegman has been lined up to coach a potential Team GB so this represented an ideal opportunity for England’s manager to scout potential squad contenders from north of the border.

Her Lionesses wore wristbands emblazoned with the message Se Acabó – “It’s over” – in solidarity with their Spain counterparts’ fight against misogyny but England briefly battled among themselves as a hitherto defensive Scotland very nearly scored with their first counterattack.

Caroline Weir would be a strong candidate for any Team GB side and her rising shot forced Mary Earps into a fabulous save as the game changed from something initially resembling a one paced pre-season friendly to a somewhat higher tempo affair.

Rachel Daly, initially deployed at centre forward in Alessia Russo’s absence, swiftly directed a powerful header past Lee Gibson after meeting Katie Zelem’s corner only to see it chalked off after an offside Chloe Kelly was deemed to have interfered with play.

Lauren Hemp heads home England’s second goal against Scotland
Lauren Hemp heads home England’s second goal against Scotland. Photograph: Lee Smith/Action Images/Reuters

This reprieve galvanised Scotland and Hanson’s glorious pass bisected England’s backline with a stretching Martha Thomas inches away from connecting.

It was a night of tight refereeing decisions when even VAR sceptics may have felt its technological assistance was missed. Had VAR been operational Scotland would almost certainly have been awarded a penalty when Millie Bright subsequently felled Weir in the area. Martínez Losa’s players were still complaining about it when Zelem slung a superlative cross into the box and Bronze, having timed her curving run to perfection, headed beyond Gibson.

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This time the goal stood, although replays suggested Bronze could possibly have been offside. No matter; as a former Sunderland player there could not have been a more popular scorer.

The celebrations had barely faded before another cross and another header – from Daly and Hemp respectively this time – doubled England’s advantage.

Similarly Hemp’s name was still up in lights when Scotland finally, and deservedly, answered back with the final kick of the first half when a combination of an off balance Alex Greenwood’s defensive error and Claire Emslie’s pass permitted Hanson’s shot to beat Earps. Significantly Bronze had neglected to properly track the scorer.

Yet with the Women’s Super League not kicking off until next Sunday it was perhaps no surprise that England looked distinctly rusty at times against opponents who might have equalised when Hanson crossed and Thomas’s header brought the best out in Earps.

Attempting to change the narrative, Wiegman moved Lauren James forward to join Hemp in attack with Daly reverting to left wing-back.

England, by now missing the injured Keira Walsh and overly reliant on long balls, lacked the energy to resist Scotland’s high, hard second-half press. At times Hanson, who was unlucky to hit the bar with a viciously dipping volley, almost did the unthinkable and bullied Bronze.

Although James had a late goal disallowed for an arguably harsh offside the Lionesses will need to up their game appreciably against Wiegman’s native Netherland’s in Utrecht on Tuesday.