Date: 31 August, 2018
Venue: Rodney Parade, Newport
by Julie Kissick
THE Lionesses proved too much for the Red Dragons as Jayne Ludlow’s impressive side failed in their bid for automatic qualification to the World Cup next year.
Second-half goals from Toni Duggan, Jill Scott and Nikita Parris sent England through to France and left Wales at the mercy of other results going their way if they are to get a chance via the playoffs.
Wales gave a decent account of themselves in the first half, but England were the better team, having the majority of possession but failing to capitalise.
Their strength in depth showed in the second half, resulting in Welsh dreams being shattered in front of a five thousand-plus sell-out crowd at Rodney Parade.
The 3-0 defeat was tough to take. The disappointment on the faces of the Wales players said it all after a frantic 12 minute spell sealed their fate.
England had found the back of the net early on when in the sixth minute Parris stabbed the ball home off Alex Greenwood’s deflected shot but it was controversially given offside.
The irony of the decision was not wasted on the Wales fans, who clearly recalled an incident in the reverse fixture where Natasha Harding’s goal appeared to cross the line but was not given.
The Wales game-plan continued in a similar vein to that at Southampton as they sat deep and defended in numbers, frustrating Phil Neville’s side for much of the first half.
Kayleigh Green came close on 36 minutes, forcing ‘keeper Karen Bardsley off her line and seemingly clipping Green, who went to ground. However, calls for a penalty were ignored.
The Lionesses returned from the break early and what followed suggested that Neville’s half-time team talk had provoked the desired reaction.
England moved the ball much more quickly as they found a new head of steam and as they piled on the pressure, the goals came.
Wales looked tired as the half progressed. They had gone an incredible 687 minutes without conceding in Group 1, but once the England breakthrough came, they couldn’t find a response.
The win means England qualify for the finals as Group 1 winners with a game to spare and Wales play the waiting game for a play-off place.
Going into their final match top of the group was more than Ludlow’s predominantly part-time team could have thought possible at the start of the campaign.
After seven clean sheets, there was hope bordering on expectation, a real belief that if they stuck to the game plan and did their jobs, victory was possible.
It did not happen, but progress, particularly in recent years under Ludlow, is evident for all to see.
Changing perceptions about the women’s game and winning over the public is also a huge step in the right direction.
The question now is: Where does women’s football in Wales go from here and how does it capitalise on all the positives this campaign has delivered?
Is the relatively slow incremental growth enough? Or is there an appetite to invest big, both in terms of finances and resources, to harness the opportunities and ensure development is accelerated?
(All images by Matthew Lofthouse – freelance photographer)