Kenny Shiels insists his team will give it a go tonight when they come up against the England juggernaut in a FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 qualifier at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
After Friday’s disappointing 3-1 defeat away to Austria in European Qualifying Group D, the Northern Ireland senior women’s team manager says his players will want to bounce back and put on a good performance in front of a sell-out crowd (7.55 kick-off).
Just over 16,000 tickets have been sold for the match, which is a new record for a Northern Ireland senior women’s international by a country mile; the previous record of just over 4500 was set last autumn in the home qualifier against Latvia at the National Stadium.
Tonight’s game against the Group D table toppers, who have scored 63 and conceded none in their seven qualifiers to date, is a daunting task and very much a David v Goliath affair.
'England have strolled through the group to date, scoring for fun. But I am confident we can give them a game tonight, roared on by a full house at the National Stadium'
The England squad is crammed with players who ply their trade in the FA Women’s Super League, one of the strongest leagues in the world.
In his Manager’s View column in the matchday programme, Shiels says: “England have strolled through the group to date, scoring for fun. But I am confident we can give them a game tonight, roared on by a full house at the National Stadium.
“We have to put the disappointment of the result (against Austria) in Wiener Neustadt behind us and go again. And I believe we can do that.”
He also acknowledges it is going to be very tough against an England team who are firing on all cylinders just now.
But he adds: “We repelled them at Wembley back in the autumn for more than 60 minutes and if we show as much grit, spirit and determination, along with more purpose going forward, I think we will give a good account of ourselves.
“We showed in the final quarter of the game in Austria that we have the ability to create chances, but we must improve when it comes to taking those chances.”
Shiels revealed yesterday that he will be using tried and tested players on the big occasion, adding that it was not a time to experiment.
The Lionesses squad contains several star names, including nine players from Manchester City Women who could arguably be the sizeable core of the team.
They include former Best FIFA Women’s Player Award holder Lucy Bronze, prolific striker Ellen White, Lauren Hemp, Alex Greenwood, Georgia Stanway, Demi Stokes, Kiera Walsh and goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck, although Manchester City midfielder Jill Scott, currently on loan at Aston Villa Women, will not be available for the game due to injury.
There are also strong contingents of players from both Chelsea Women and Arsenal Women, who are currently vying for the WSL title, as well as Manchester United Women, who have had a good season in England’s top flight.
Among the Arsenal group is England captain Leah Williamson, who believes Northern Ireland have improved since the teams first met in Group D at Wembley back in October when the hosts won 4-0.
She said she expects the game in Belfast to be a “practice run” before the teams meet again in the Women’s Euros in England this summer.
England head coach Sarina Wiegman is likely to name a side mixed with youth and experience.
"This event will be big and the crowd will be against us and not for us. I'm really looking forward to it," said Wiegman.