Was it snow? Was it rain? Was it sleet? Did it matter? The blustery, treacherous conditions kept many England fans with tickets at home. But those who did make it to Sunderland’s Stadium of Light were treated to a hard-fought win for the Lionesses over a technically capable Austria team. England weathered the early storm before striking as Ellen White marked her 100th cap with her 45th goal — she’s now one away from joining Kelly Smith as England’s joint top scorer ever.
Nearly 14,000 tickets were sold for this crucial 2023 World Cup qualifier. But with public transport cancelled or delayed in the north east, and with the conditions no better for those driving to the ground, the attendance was less than 10,000 in the end. On the field of play, though, England didn’t let the elements curb their synergy. Beth Mead and Fran Kirby were two players particularly in-sync, combining down the right flank promisingly — if not decisively.
Austria were well up for this, and you could tell within minutes. England were pinned into their own half for the first five minutes as the visitors went for the jugular. Having been held by Northern Ireland last month, the Austrians knew they could really do with sneaking a victory here.Embed from Getty Images
Their midfield string-puller, Bayern Munich’s Sarah Zadrazil, told EnglandFootball.org on Friday: “I think we just have to be prepared to play physical. They have physically a super strong team. We have to be good in defence. Obviously they have some quality players, but I think so do we. So our plan will be not to be scared and just play our game as well. Hopefully we can hurt them a little bit.”
In the end, she and her team will have left the sodden pitch frozen and frustrated. Powered by her charges from midfield and by Barbara Dunst’s many shots on goal, Austria were always a threat to Sarina Wiegman’s side on the counter. That will have pleased England’s head coach, who has seemed a tad uninspired by the plain-sailing nature of England’s rampant wins over woeful opposition so far in qualifying. Here was a real test. England pulled through.
Having survived the early pressure, the Lionesses got to work in the final third and came close through captain Millie Bright and wingers Beth Mead and Lauren Hemp. As half-time neared, England found the breakthrough from a very familiar source. Hemp’s overlapping dart down the left allowed her the space to cross. Mead shot. Blocked. Kirby shot. Blocked. Then Kirby found Ellen White who was positioned impatiently under the post. White volleyed home emphatically. Austria looked forlorn. England led at the break.Embed from Getty Images
As the heavens opened in their own unique way, England pushed hard for that crucial second goal in the final 45. Suddenly, goalkeeper Mary Earps had something to do, following hours and hours of nothingness in England’s dominant thrashings of North Macedonia, Luxembourg, Northern Ireland and Latvia in previous months. First she blocked well from Dunst’s speculative far-out strike, before she made a truly excellent stop to deny the lively Zadrazil who went through on goal and drilled towards the corner. Earps impressed her manager, who admitted afterwards that “those two saves were difference-makers.”
Rachel Daly almost doubled the home lead from range on 84 minutes, but for a smart stop down low from Arsenal goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger. This was an attritional affair in the harsh Sunderland wind and rain. Crucially, it was also another England win. Wiegman now has five victories from five, 33 goals for and none against as manager. Latvia in Doncaster on Tuesday offers a chance to add further glimmer to that already supreme record.