A lacklustre England peformance saw them narrowly defeated by just one goal at the MK Dons stadium last evening as Alex Morgan’s 50th international goal gave USA a 1-0 win in a cagey World Cup warm-up match.
Morgan climbed above Three Lions skipper Steph Houghton to glance Lauren Holiday’s cross beyond Karen Bardsley to give Jill Ellis’s side a narrow win in England’s penultimate home game before Canada 2015.
During the first half England had trouble finding their rhythm and ball retention was a big problem as they came second best to a well organised USA team. However, they should have had an equaliser when Jodie Taylor’s strike was incorrectly ruled offside after she pounced on Fran Kirby’s shot that had rebounded from the crossbar.
This galvanised England but the Americans stood firm and had chances to extend their lead but Bardsley and England’s backline stood firm.
Before the match, Sampson said his players needed to be smarter when out of possession than they were in the 3-0 defeat by Germany in November, and he made five changes to the team from that game with Laura Bassett, Jo Potter, Jill Scott, Taylor and Kirby were all handed a place in the starting XI.
Both defences came out on top in the opening 20 minutes. Jill Scott sliced a shot wide from the edge of the box and Houghton was required to head clear on a couple of occasions as neither side were able to gain the upper hand or launch a meaningful attack.
But that all changed in the 25th minute when USA took the lead. Morgan got in front of Houghton and Bassett to head Holiday’s cross into the far corner of the net and momentarily silenced a boisterous crowd at stadium:mk.
It was the only clearcut chance of the first half. Holiday had a free-kick comfortably saved, Ali Krieger was denied by Bardsley at the near post and Kirby just failed to reach an Alex Scott cross, but neither goalkeeper was overly tested in a cagey first half.
The hosts started the second half brightly – and they might have been level within ten minutes of the restart had it not been for the assistant referee’s flag.
Kirby was found in space 25 yards from the American goal. She took a touch and thumped a shot against the crossbar. Taylor was on hand to convert the rebound but was deemed to be in an offside position, though TV replays suggest the Portland Thorns striker was onside when the initial shot was taken.
USA then went in search of a second with Morgan and the irrepressible Abby Wambach having shots saved by Bardsley.
Sampson made a quartet of attacking substitutions as the game entered its dying embers, with Fara Williams, Lianne Sanderson, Eniola Aluko and Jess Clarke replacing Jordan Nobbs, Taylor, Potter and Bassett.
Williams hit a long-ranger into Ashlyn Harris’s arms as England were unable to find that elusive breakthrough.
This is the first match for England since their defeat to Germany and a lack of confidence and playing time showed. In two weeks they will travel to the Cyprus Cup for matches against Australia, Finland and Holland before one last friendly on home soil in April.
England have been drawn in Group F at the World Cup alongside France, Colombia and Mexico.
England (4-4-2): 1 Karen Bardsley (Manchester City); 2 Alex Scott (Arsenal), 5 Steph Houghton (C; Manchester City), 6 Laura Bassett (Notts County), 3 Demi Stokes (Manchester City); 7 Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal), 4 Jo Potter (Birmingham City), 8 Jill Scott (Manchester City), 11 Karen Carney (Birmingham City); 9 Jodie Taylor (Portland Thorns), 10 Fran Kirby (Reading).
Substitutes: 14 Alex Greenwood (Notts County) for Stokes 70, 20 Eniola Aluko (Chelsea) for Potter 79, 22 Lianne Sanderson (Arsenal) for Taylor 81, 16 Fara Williams (Liverpool) for Nobbs 81, 19 Jess Clarke (Notts County) for Bassett 90
Substitutes not used: 12 Gemma Bonner (Liverpool), 13 Siobhan Chamberlain (Arsenal), 15 Casey Stoney (Arsenal), 17 Katie Chapman (Chelsea), 18 Jade Moore (Birmingham City), 21 Carly Telford (Notts County).
Head coach: Mark Sampson
USA (4-4-2): 24 Ashlyn Harris; 11 Ali Krieger, 6 Whitney Engen, 4 Becky Sauerbrunn, 25 Meghan Klingenberg; 23 Christen Press, 15 Morgan Brian, 12 Lauren Holiday 10 Carli Lloyd; 20 Abby Wambach (C), 13 Alex Morgan.
Substitutes: 22 Crystal Dunn for Klingenberg 79, 8 Amy Rodriguez for Morgan 89, 5 Kelley O’Hara for Press 90
Substitutes not used: 21 Alyssa Naeher, 7 Shannon Boxx, 9 Heather O’Reilly, 14 Julie Johnston, 16 Lori Chalupny, 17 Tobin Heath, 19 Rachel van Hollebeke, 26 Tori Huster.
Goals: Morgan 25
Head coach: Jill Ellis
Referee: Sandra Bastos (Portugal)