Latvia v England Lionesses: Beth Mead well-placed to gain start against minnows

If Fran Kirby was taking pride in the rollercoaster journey that has taken her to what should be a 50th England cap tonight, Beth Mead has crammed extreme highs and lows into the space of a few months.

From the moment she was left out of Great Britain’s Olympic squad this summer, the Whitby-born forward has been on a mission to prove that decision wrong.

Having ousted Nikita Parris from Arsenal’s line-up, she came off the bench to become the first women to score a Wembley hat-trick as the Lionesses beat Northern Ireland in Saturday’s World Cup qualifier.

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After coach Sarina Wiegman demanded ruthlessness from her forwards, it is hard to see how she can leave a player with three goals from four shots out in Latvia this evening.

THANKS: England's Beth Mead shows appreciation to the fans after the Women's World Cup 2023 Qualifier group D match against Northern Ireland Picture: Henry Browne/Getty Images

“I don’t think she told me to do that, but she told us to come on and make a difference and I think that is exactly what the subs did,” said Mead after her 15-minute hat-trick.

“I’d never scored (at Wembley) before – had a chance to play but not score – and to come away with three goals, I’m super proud and I’m sure my family are too.”

Wiegman, though, has resisted the temptation to announce Mead will get the start she is hungry for.

“Some players play in the same position but have different qualities and are very good,” said the Dutch coach. “I have hard decisions to make all the time.”

England's Fran Kirby battles for possession with Northern Ireland's Marissa Callaghan Picture: Henry Browne/Getty Images

Tonight in Riga, the attention will switch to Chelsea’s Kirby, reaching her half-century later than many expected after numerous injuries and off-field problems, including being diagnosed with heart inflammation pericarditis last year.

Now 28, Kirby quit football as a teenager following the death of her mother, who had told her she would one day play at a World Cup, as she did in 2015.

“It’s been a rollercoaster for sure,” she said.

“But it’s a journey that I’m really proud of and one that I think looking back I probably wouldn’t change a lot.

“I’ve been through a lot but it’s made me who I am, and I’ve been able to come here, hopefully get my 50th cap, (and) play at Wembley in a competitive fixture. I’m really happy about how it’s going and hopefully I can keep building.

“I’m just so grateful to be part of this team after the journey I’ve had. It does take you back to those memories of your first cap.

“It’s something I’m really happy about and has been a long time coming - something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while.”

The way England struggled to break down stubborn opponents until Mead’s second-half introduction on Saturday was in stark contrast to the rest of a qualifying campaign which has seen them score 22 goals without reply in three games.

But Wiegman’s insistence on ruthlessness is because she wants her team to prepare to play minnows like Latvia – who have a minus-16 goal difference after three defeats - as they would for the world’s best.

“We know that we have to play well to win,” said Kirby. “I don’t think it’s a case of we know, because we’re favourites, we’re going to turn up and be able to just score loads of goals.

“We still know that we have to be patient in our play and make sure that we do the right things and we treat each game the same.

“The focus is the same, the training going into the game is the same, the mindset is the same, the preparation is the same.

“We will be favourites going in because we’re ranked a lot higher, we’ve played higher opposition than Latvia, but we know that we have to go in with the mindset that we have for every game, whether it was a top-four opposition or a team like North Macedonia or Latvia.

“We’re just focusing on ourselves and what we can control in the game.”