Steph Houghton Says There’s Still More to Come from England after Group Stage Win over Scotland

England captain Steph Houghton.
Caroline Charruyer / OGM
[dropcap]E[/dropcap]ngland captain Steph Houghton described it as “scary” post-match after her Lionesses side got off to a positive start in search of World Cup glory against Scotland.

First-half goals from her club teammates old and new, Nikita Parris and Ellen White, put Phil Neville’s side in complete control but a late strike from another of her now former teammates, Claire Emslie, ensured a nervy finale.

England clicked into gear during an opening 45 minutes in which their neighbors struggled to live with their pace and attacking intent, particularly through Parris and Lucy Bronze down the right-hand side.

While the team lost some of their intensity in the second half as the humid Nice air took its toll, Houghton knows there is more to come from the team and doesn’t regret the fact they didn’t try to just see the game out.

“This is a team that wants more and we’ve got the players to go and do that,” said Houghton. “With the likes of Lucy and Nikita bombing down the right-hand side and Ellen’s always in the box trying to get goals, and for us, maybe on another day we’d have scored a few more, but look we’re creating chances which is a good thing. It’s quite scary that we know we can play quite a bit better.”

England looked solid at the back for the majority of the first half but for the first 15 minutes leading up to the penalty awarded for handball against Nicola Docherty.

With Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood only too happy to get forward from their full back positions, Scotland broke with ease in the opening 10 minutes and it looked like it would become a constant threat until the penalty turned the momentum England’s way.

Despite a difficult second half that saw England struggle to add to their tally despite a goal ruled out less than 30 seconds after the restart, Houghton had no doubt her and her teammates deserved the three points.

“I thought overall we deserved the win, we’re happy with the three points. For us, that first-half performance is what this England team is about. We were full of energy, we were pressing, we were passing the ball well, we got the two goals and it could have been more.

“We dropped off a little in the second half, which we’re a bit disappointed with, but ultimately if you had said when I was in the press conference yesterday did we want to just go and win the game? We certainly did that.”

Houghton expanded further on the drop-off she referenced but didn’t want to make excuses for what became a below-par second-half performance.

“There’s been a lot of buildup to this game,” she said. “I’m not making excuses, we can be better and we can pass the ball better. It was my mistake for the goal but ultimately we’re a team and it was about getting the first three points on the board.”

Houghton gave the ball away trying to play the ball out from the back, something Neville didn’t criticize her for post-match, but it put England in trouble, which no more than 10 seconds later, would lead to Scotland’s goal as Greenwood lost track of Emslie’s run into the box.

But Houghton said the mistake didn’t affect her and she was pleased with how the team saw out the final 10 minutes of the match under more pressure than they would have liked.

“I’ve got good teammates around me. My job is to be brave and play out from the back and I do that every single week whether that’s for England or for club, so it’s not going to stop me from doing that. There’s going to be wrong decision-making sometimes but ultimately it was all about the win today.”

Houghton added that Karen Bardsley didn’t have a save to make as Scotland looked to find an equalizer that would have turned the game on its head but doesn’t believe England being forced into a defensive reshuffle had any impact on their performance.

Millie Bright was forced to go off after a collision with Chelsea teammate Erin Cuthbert and was replaced by Abbie McManus.

“It’s obviously not good to see Millie go off but then Abbie’s come in and made her World Cup debut and she’s got a lot of experience at this level so for us. Keeping the ball maybe could have been a bit better, our shape was okay at times, but at the same time, we don’t need to be peaking in this first game, we don’t need to be playing the best football we can be playing and as players, we want to keep improving.”

Houghton was also asked about the VAR decision which led to the opening goal and what was a big turning point in the match after Scotland’s bright start.

Referee Jana Adamkova initially played on after Fran Kirby’s cross hit Docherty on the arm but after being invited to rewatch the incident, the Czech official awarded England a penaltythat Parris duly converted.

While those in the stands and indeed the press box we’re unsure as to what had happened, Houghton herself admits she “didn’t have a clue what was going on” as everyone waited for the decision.

“I was like ‘So, what’s happening? Are we having a water break?’ We’ve all had meetings with the referees, we’re all clear with how VAR works and ultimately you want the rules to be fair.

“I’m sure if that was us giving that handball away then Scotland would be saying exactly the same as us and taking the penalty. I’ve not seen it back but ultimately the referee makes the decision.”

The captain also admitted perhaps “consciously” she and other players may think more about keeping their hands behind their backs but believes it’s “natural” for players to sometimes have their arms by their sides.

“Obviously, consciously, you might think about it a little bit more but at the same time you’ve got to be natural, you’ve got to try and get up to the ball and stay close to your player, so we know there’s things that might have to change.”