England women’s manager Phil Neville claimed defeat to Sweden was ‘a result they needed’ after his charges lost 2-0 at Rotherham United’s New York Stadium yesterday.
The result poured cold water on a party to celebrate the 100th cap of former Leeds Ladies defender Steph Houghton and ended an unbeaten run on home soil stretching back to February 2015. Neville described the performance as ‘an important bump in the road’ ahead of the World Cup next Summer.
“For the last 12 months everything has gone really smoothly and there’s been a massive euphoria around this team,” he said.
“We’ve said amongst ourselves that we’ve got a long way to go but sometimes you need a result to go against you.
“You tend to get carried away sometimes. That’s aimed at myself first and the players second. It was what we needed.”
The match served as an afternoon to forget for England’s Yorkshirewomen back on home turf.
Of the three that started, only Killamarsh-born centre-half Millie Bright, playing just 12 miles from the village she grew up in, produced a positive showing, dominating in the air and providing impetus in bringing the ball out from the back.
Whitby-born Arsenal forward Beth Mead was taken off at the break after a frustrating first half in which she failed to track the elusive Sofia Jakobsson on 18 minutes for Sweden’s opener.
Jakobsson, formerly of Chelsea, was a handful throughout and used the resultant space well, looping the ball over the head of England goalkeeper Carly Telford from 25 yeards out. Anna Anvegaard scored from close range 10 minutes later when England passed up opportunities to clear a corner.
“The better team won and we weren’t good enough, especially in the first half,” Neville admitted. “We left ourselves a mountain to climb against a really good team and Sweden were never going to open up against us.”
Harrogate-born frontwoman Rachel Daly, who fired home her first international goal during Thursday’s dominant 3-0 win against Austria, produced promising moments but was brought back down to earth with a largely frustrating display.
Theirs were just two of a number of ineffectual performances in the England side that was unable to cope with Sweden’s physicality, something that Neville was critical of.
“In the first half I saw only two players that were able to compete with Sweden physically, Jill Scott and Lucy Bronze,” he said.
“I thought we were too weak physically. Those were the only two players who showed any kind of aggression to go out and win the game.”
The former Manchester United defender, who expressed added frustration at ending the 2018 fixture list with a defeat, denied that his side failed to cope with the occasion of playing a fellow top-10 side or that they were distracted by the ticker-tape reception laid on for captain Houghton.
“The mental state of my team is fantastic.
“If you look back at the past 12 months, I’ve probably got one of the mentally-strongest teams.
“What they’ve had to put up with in terms of what happened with the previous manager to myself coming in from left-field, to the expectation on them, it’s as good as I’ve seen a team handle any kind of situation.”
A crowd of 9,561 – more than Rotherham’s average gate this season – packed into the New York Stadium for England’s second visit to the ground.
Neville confirmed that his side would be back, praising the facilities and atmosphere provided in South Yorkshire.
“The stadium is absolutely beautiful and it seems a perfect setting for an international women’s fixture.
“There is obviously a thirst for women’s football in this area.
“Our biggest diasppointment is that those 9,000 came today to see goals, to see excitement and we didn’t produce that for them.
“That hurts us more than the result, that 9,000 people have gone away slightly disappointed with the Lionesses tonight.”