Jodie Taylor became the first England women to hit a hat-trick in a major tournament (and the first England player full stop to score one in the European Championships) as England sent out an emphatic message to their Euro 2017 rivals with a thumping victory over the Auld Enemy Scotland in their opening group game. Having failed to win their opening game at any major tournament for the past 12 years, this was an encouraging sign, although the Lionesses will likely encounter stiffer opposition in the remainder of the tournament.
Usually, the opening games of major tournaments are cagey affairs, with neither side wanting to make mistakes or drop points. This match, however, had much more of a derby feel to it, and the early period saw end-to-end action, with some chances for both teams. Indeed, it was Scotland who took the game on immediately, with a long range shot from Jane Ross tipped over rather nervously by Karen Bardsley in the England goal. From there, however, the action clearly favoured England, who found space down both flanks and had the dangerous Fran Kirby looking threatening on the counter-attack, and dropping between the lines to cause havoc with the Scottish defence.
After just ten minutes, England were ahead. A through ball from Lucy Bronze seemed intended for Kirby, but a clever dummy dragged two Scottish defenders with her, and left Taylor clean through on goal, with Gemma Fay unable to prevent the striker stroking the ball home. This is unlikely to have been the Scottish goalkeeper’s dream for her 200th cap. Scotland continued to look for the direct ball up to Ross up front, but the striker looked increasingly isolated as the game progressed, and the England midfield soon began to control the game. The Lionesses showed impressive fitness, with Jordan Nobbs particularly visible, and Bronze and Stokes providing an outlet on either side as they bombed forward to support the attack.
As the game seemed to be pausing for breath, Kirby earned a dubious free kick out on the left hand side of the penalty area. Nobbs floated in the cross and Bronze leapt for the header which was hacked off the line by the Scottish defence. The ball fell kindly to Taylor, who showed excellent composure to steer it into the goal, although questions should be asked of Fay’s positioning and command of her six-yard box. England’s two goal lead quickly became three as Jill Scott launched a long range shot which cannoned back off the bar. Ellen White, although a few yards behind the Scottish defence, was first to react, and pounced on the rebound to direct the ball past Fay for the third time.
Shortly after half-time, Taylor completed her hat-trick. Captain Steph Houghton hit a long free kick, which was flicked on by White into the path of Taylor, who dinked a lovely weighted lob over Fay and into the net. With the game won, coach Mark Sampson was able to shuffle his attacking pack, taking off Taylor to a standing ovation, and replacing her with Barcelona-bound Toni Duggan, and also taking the opportunity to rest Kirby and White for Parris and Carney respectively.
With the game won, it seemed that England were happy to take their foot off the gas and see out the remaining minutes, although Bardsley and Houghton both seemed determined to maintain their clean sheet. As the game entered the final five minutes, Nobbs volleyed in a sublime finish off a deflected cross from Carney to cap an excellent performance, and with the last kick of the game Nobbs swung in a corner which was headed goalwards by Houghton before being tipped past Fay in true poacher’s fashion by Duggan.
England now move on to arguably the trickiest match of their group stage against Spain (who defeated Portugal 2-0 yesterday), while Scotland need to regroup quickly ahead of their match against Portugal. Goal difference will now not be their friend in their quest to make it to the knockout stage.