Mark Sampson’s Lionesses added a valuable point to their Euro 2017 qualification campaign as they recorded a hard fought 1-1 draw against Belgium at Rotherham United’s AESSEAL New York Stadium.
The Women’s national team fell behind in South Yorkshire following a mix up in the defence which allowed Janice Cayman the simplest of finishes to give the visitors the lead, but found an equaliser late in the second half when Jill Scott pounced on a ball in the box to stab home.
The Lionesses started brightly and fashioned the first chance of the game after just five minutes when Justien Odeurs failed to claim Alex Scott’s dangerous cross from the right, which resulted in a melee in the box before Belgium were able to hack the ball clear of danger.
England continued to look threatening in the early exchanges and would come close again after 12 minutes had elapsed. This time the danger came from the opposite flank where forward Toni Duggan composed herself on the angle of the Belgium area before whipping a curling effort at the back post which flashed narrowly wide.
However, Ives Serneels’ side would prove clinical with their first chance of the game which yielded the opening goal in Rotherham just shy of the 20 minute-mark. Following hesitation in the Lionesses’ back line, Karen Bardsley failed to clear outside the area allowing Cayman to capitalise and slide the visitors in front.
England wasted no time in making their attempt to restore parity at AESSEAL New York Stadium and almost did when Duggan’s looping effort looked to be dipping under the crossbar, before Odeurs plucked it out of the air on her goal line.
The Belgian contingent in South Yorkshire were almost on their feet again minutes later after a wicked delivery from the left was met by the head of Tessa Wullaert, who couldn’t keep her connection on target from close range.
England almost had themselves on level terms right on the stroke of half-time following a succession of free kicks. The most dangerous of those set pieces was swung in from a deep position by Alex Greenwood whose pinpoint delivery picked out Jill Scott in the area, who failed to keep her header down from close range.
Half-time: England 0 v 1 Belgium
With Mark Sampson’s words half time instructions still fresh in their minds the Lionesses continued their quest for an equaliser in Rotherham and almost did so with a move straight from the training ground.
A cleverly-worked short corner allowed the relentless Duggan in space at the edge of the area but Odeuers was once again equal to her powerful drive from distance.
Keen not to rest on their one goal cushion the visitors almost doubled their advantage when an intricate attack saw Cayman race towards a return pass in the area, before she was thwarted by the onrushing figure of Bardsley who got down well to snuff out danger.
The two would face off again moments later as the Belgium goalscorer charged into the box but Bardsley was once again equal to her effort, which stung the arms of the Lionesses’ stopper before she gathered at the second attempt.
Sampson introduced a number of new faces following the interval, one of which was Karen Carney and her arrival on the pitch at AESSEAL New York Stadium almost paid dividends immediately.
There looked to be little danger when Carney picked the ball up 25 yards from goal, but her instinctive snapshot almost caught Odeurs unawares but flashed agonisingly wide of the near post.
Belgium were already aware of the threat posed by Greenwood’s delivery but could do little to prevent it as she burst to the byline on the left before flashing a dangerous cross into the box which would have rippled the net had substitute Eniola Aluko been able to make the faintest of contact at the front post.
The Lionesses were finally rewarded for their persistence in the final third following another delivery from a wide area. This time the visitors failed to properly clear a cross from the right and Scott showed her predatory instincts to pounce on the loose ball and prod home the equaliser from close range.
Sampson’s side almost snatched all three points late on after a Greenwood cross/shot came close to catching Odeurs off her line before Carney’s drive into the box was halted as she shaped up to pull the trigger meaning the two teams had to settle for a share of the spoils from their outing in South Yorkshire.
Full-time: England 1 v 1 Belgium