England head coach Phil Neville admits it’s going to be “very difficult” to cut players from the squad that beat Spain 2–1 ahead of the World Cup in June.
Neville is in no rush to name his squad but he’s already suggested it will happen before England step out to face Denmark in Walsall after the domestic season has ended next month.
Every player in his squad got on the pitch either against Canada or Spain, with Ellie Roebuck and Mary Earps sharing goalkeeping duties against Spain, and appearances also for the likes of Georgia Stanway and Chioma Ubogagu.
“It’s going to be difficult,” said Neville. “You know it, I know it, we know it’s coming. I know how I’m going to do it, when I’m going to do it, I just don’t know who it’s going to be.
“We didn’t really review the games, we’ve reviewed the last 14 months from standing on that touchline at SheBelieves thinking, ‘What’s going to happen?’ I didn’t know to be honest, you set a team up to play a certain style and I thanked them for their efforts over the past 14 months.”
He added, reflecting on his time in charge so far, “The pleasing thing for me as a coach is I’ve stuck to what I believe in — giving everyone an opportunity. Tonight wasn’t a trial at all, nobody has put themselves on the plane or taken themselves off it. Telling the two or three in this squad and the four or five on the fringes is going to be difficult.
“It’s happened to me three times so I’m probably the best person in the world to understand how to do it. We’ve spoke to the players about how we’ll do it. Now I have to be ruthless and put the best players on the plane. They’ve got four weeks to stay fit, play well, and keep charging forward. The train doesn’t stop. The clocks have gone forward but it’s not time to put the flip flops on, the hard work starts now.”
Neville made nine changes from the side that lost against Canada in Manchester on Friday and ensured every player got minutes at some point.
With Izzy Christiansen’s World Cup still hanging in the balance, one goalkeeper will definitely miss out and potentially two outfield players if nobody else from the fringes makes a late play for a spot on the flight to Nice.
But despite the Spain game and the performances of certain players potentially providing a headache for Neville, he’s not complaining and singled out several players for their performances both tonight and during 2019 so far.
“I wanted them to play well [those coming in],” he said. Beth [Mead] did. Beth’s turned a bit of a corner, SheBelieves was a good one for her. She’s the nicest girl you’ve ever met. After Brazil, I got her in and told her she wasn’t playing against the USA and the look she gave me, she could have killed me.
“It’s the first time she’s ever got angry and she really turned a corner, she went from nice Beth Mead to hungry Beth Mead and we’re now seeing someone who is challenging to be a starter. She’s a goal threat; for a winger, her contribution is brilliant.”
Neville also singled out his captain for the night, Jill Scott, who, despite having achieved well over a century of international caps, was wearing the armband from the start for the first time.
Scott was cautioned in the first half for a late challenge but showed her continued importance to the team with her all-around performance, while the returning Jade Moore was also praised by Neville.
“I don’t single players out too much but I thought Jill was unbelievable,” said Neville. “In training yesterday she was sensational. We made a presentation to her before the match because Jill’s the kind of person you can take for granted. She comes in, bounces around, and keeps everyone happy.
“She goes for a coffee and comes back with 20 coffees for everyone. Over the 14 months I probably haven’t given her enough credit because she’s just always there, she never lets us down, and presenting that to her in front of the girls tonight was a special moment, she’s vital to us.”
On Moore, starting just her second game under Neville after a run of injuries, the head coach said, ” I was pleased. A year ago today she played her last game [in Bosnia]. We’ve unfortunately not had her, we could have taken her to SheBelieves but we spoke to her and Reading and put her on a really good program and tonight she showed everything I wanted to see.
“She’s a great character, she’s a leader, you talk about a senior player who doesn’t take any prisoners and doesn’t really like any of the razzmatazz of what’s going on around us at the moment and just gets on with her job. That’s what I admire about her. She’s a simple player, a simple person, and someone we’re delighted to have her back.”
Neville also praised his goalkeepers, both of whom played 45 minutes each. Nineteen-year-old Roebuck, who was making her first senior start on just her second cap, was relatively untroubled but dealt with what she did have to do with comfort while Mary Earps was forced into several good saves, though almost cost England the win when she came charging out for a ball in the closing minutes.
“I thought Ellie was brilliant, Mary was brilliant,” said Neville. “Mary showed her experience and Ellie just has great composure. All day I was asking her if she was okay but it was like a youth team game to her. We’re lucky we’ve got great keepers in the pathway. Sandy [MacIver] and Sophie [Baggaley] have played for the Under-21s this week, Karen Bardsley was world-class on Friday; the only problem we’ve got is who to take rather than the quality.”