Phil Neville and Lionesses in danger of losing public goodwill - Sue Smith

On one level, I am not too unhappy about all the criticism being thrown Phil Neville’s way.

England Women's manager Phil Neville gestures on the touchline (PIcture: PA)

As an England fan, I would rather the Lionesses’ manager was being showered with praise for the fantastic job he and his winning team was doing. But the increased scrutiny on Neville and England is a sign of the progress the women’s game is making in this country.

Even a few years ago, you would not have had so many people writing, talking, getting frustrated and annoyed about the performance of the Lionesses.

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They have won three of the last 11 matches and been beaten by teams ranked below them, and that is not good enough. The pressure is now on Neville.

Bright spot: England's Lauren Hemp, right, collides with United States' Kelley O'Hara, left. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

But the criticism they have received shows how Neville’s high-profile has upped the interest in and scrutiny on the team and made more people take notice.

There was debate when Neville was appointed about whether he was the right person for the job but I have huge respect for the FA’s director of women’s football, Sue Campbell, and she said he was the best candidate 
after hours and hours of interviews.

In some ways England were quite unlucky at the World Cup but since then results have not been good enough. It has gone past the stage where you can put it down to a post-World Cup hangover.

Going from a World Cup into friendlies is not the easiest thing. Every single game you play for your country should be prized but it is only natural that sometimes you have a little drop-off. They should be over that by now, and defending the She Believes Cup was something to get up for.

Columnist Sue Smith

Neville needs to get them back to where they were in the build-up to the World Cup and quickly, with an Olympic tournament due this summer if it survives the coronavirus.

One thing that does encourage me is that while he has been quick to try and take all the blame, the likes of Nikita Parris and Jill Scott have accepted responsibility themselves. It shows the players are still behind the manager.

I also have great belief in Dawn Scott, the sports scientist Neville brought back into the fold after her spell with the USA. I worked with Dawn when I was playing and it was the fittest I have been. Every session was planned to perfection and she was the best sports scientist I have worked with.

Dawn has only just returned to the fold, so it will take time to make the two and three-per cent improvements which can tip the balance at international level.

Wednesday night’s defeat to Spain could have been so different. The first-half performance was very good, but without the clinical finish or final ball. When Spain brought on their star players in the second half, England could not cope.

They might be ranked seven places below England, but having seen Spain against USA and Japan, they are better than that. I expect them to really kick on at next summer’s European Championships in England.

The Lionesses are going through a bit of a transitional period and were without Lucy Bronze, one of the world’s best players, Fran Kirby, and the in-form Beth Mead but one win from three was not good enough.

Young players got valuable gametime during the round-robin competition, and the future is looking good but all they can think about at the moment is the present.

Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly justified their selections but youngsters can only be selected on merit, not to experiment.

Time is running out to build form and momentum, and with games being called off because of the coronavirus, the Great Britain players could have only training camps to use as a tune up for the Olympics.

It is important the team not only gets its own confidence back, but gets the media and supporters back onside.

Since the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the fans have really made a big difference for England but it is important they do not lose the habit because sport can be so fickle. I know from experience how I started getting into rugby union for the first time when England were doing well at the last World Cup.

To lose that interest now would be a great shame, even if it is working against them at the moment.