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Friday 15 Jul 2022
Northern Ireland lose out to strong Lionesses

Northern Ireland's history making and inspirational European Championship adventure came to an end at St Mary's Stadium tonight with a five-goal defeat at the hands of tournament hosts and favourites England.

Despite being already eliminated and showing no signs of being overawed by the occasion Kenny Shiels' side almost got off to the ideal start when, as early as the opening minute, Lauren Wade worked her way through the England defence to force keeper Mary Earps into a good save.

 

At the other end Jackie Burns was called into action for the first time to punch the ball clear as Ellen White looked poised to pounce.

England were awarded a penalty after six minutes following a decision by Swiss referee Esther Staubli but a VAR check reversed that and, indeed, the incident ended with an indirect free-kick for Northern Ireland after it was shown that England's Beth Mead had handled the ball moments before.

The Lionesses pushed forward as the game progressed, but Burns did well once more to block a Georgia Stanway effort with her legs.

Play switched with around a quarter-of-an-hour on the clock as Rebecca Holloway sliced open the home defence but despite connecting with the ball Wade couldn't get enough purchase to make the opportunity count.

However, as expected, England continued to enjoy the lions' share of possession, and were thwarted by the experienced Julie Nelson to deny Mead from close range followed by Burns smothering a Stanway effort.

The chances continued with White latching onto a Bronze pass but could only screw her effort wide, albeit thanks in no small part to some excellent positioning from Burns.

Then, with six minutes of the first half remaining, Holloway was in the right place to stop a Stanway attempt on the line.

But Northern Ireland's tenacious defence was finally breached sixty seconds after that. A Hemp shot was blocked but the ball dropped outside the area for Fran Kirby to side foot a precisely executed effort into the top corner beyond the despairing reach of Burns.

And, in a cruel twist, England doubled their lead moments from the break. A corner wasn't properly cleared and there was Hemp to send a low, left foot strike into the bottom corner.

Not content with that, England added a third three minutes after the interval. Alessio Russo, one of three half-time substitutions, made her mark with a lovely cushioned header into the bottom corner from Mead's delivery.

Clinically Russo extended the home advantage further barely four minutes after that, receiving the ball from Ella Toone with her back to goal and sublimely turning to send a composed finish past Burns.

The goal flourish seemingly stemmed, there was further heartbreak on 76 minutes when the unfortunate Kelsie Burrows turned the ball into her own net as she put a leg out to stop a Mead cross only to send the ball looping over Burns.

That completed the scoring, although Russo did have opportunities to claim her hat-trick later in the game. An emphatic victory on paper but Shiels' charges can rightly hold their heads high and, if it wasn't for those two goals on the cusp of half-time, who knows what the outcome might have been.

Their journey might be over, but this team and these players have won hearts and minds wherever they've gone. Let's keep on dreaming.

England: Earps, Bronze, Daly, Walsh, Bright, Mead, Williamson, White, Stanway, Hemp, Kirby subs Hampton (not used), Roebuck (not used), Greenwood (replaced Bright 46), Carter (replaced Bronze 74), Scott (not used), Parris (not used), Kelly (replaced Hemp 60), England (not used), Toone (replaced Stanway 46), Wubben-Moy (not used), Russo (replaced White 46)

Northern Ireland: Burns, McKenna, Vance, Robson, Nelson, Callaghan, Furness, K. McGuinness, Wade, Holloway, Rafferty subs Flaherty (not used), Turner (not used), Hutton (replaced Nelson 87), McCarron (not used), Burrows (replaced Rafferty 66), Caldwell (replaced Furness 80), McDaniel (not used), Wilson (replaced Callaghan 87), Andrews (not used), C. McGuinness (not used), Magee (replaced Holloway 66)