The calm between Storm Dudley and Storm Eunice permitted Sarina Wiegman’s England to finally reveal the odd imperfection.
After maintaining six clean sheets since the former Netherlands coach’s installation, they opened their challenge for the inaugural Arnold Clark Cup by conceiving a first goal on her managerial watch.
Yet if a draw secured as much by Kadeisha Buchanan’s excellence at the heart of Canada’s defense as Janine Beckie’s sumptuous equalizer slightly disappointed the 8,769 who braved a bitterly cold Teesside evening, Lauren Hemp’s immense attacking promise offered cause for cautious optimism for this summer’s European Championship.
“It was the great, competitive lesson we’ve needed,” Wiegman said. “We played a very good first half and created a lot of chances but we were sometimes a little sloppy and lost too many balls in the second half. We have to be more ruthless.”
It was England’s first game since their astonishing 20-0 win against Latvia in November but Canada’s reigning Olympic gold medalists represented a very different proposition.
Moreover Bev Priestman arrived equipped with invaluable inside knowledge about the foibles of Wiegman’s players. Canada’s manager knows many of the Lionesses very well after serving as No 2 to Phil Neville and playing a key role in the team’s run to the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup in France.
Indeed the Consett-born coach had been under the distinct impression she would succeed Neville and has admitted to feeling more than slightly disappointed when she eventually was overlooked for England’s top job. As a Euro 2017 winner Wiegman perhaps seemed the safer option but Priestman swiftly proved her worth by dusting herself down, moving to Vancouver and choreographing that Olympic triumph in Japan.
Such recent history dictated that this was a match both women – who traded a rather perfunctory fist bump at the final whistle – seemed particularly keen to win.
It was an impression confirmed as Canada’s first corner resulted in considerable consternation among the home defences, permitting Buchanan a free header which was somehow scrambled to safety.
Yet if Priestman’s team looked organized and efficient, England dominated the opening helped. Hemp’s rapid change of pace and wonderful tight control ensured that Jayde Riviere, Canada’s right back, was frequently stretched to the limit and even a central defender of Buchanan’s class had her work cut out whenever the Manchester City winger cut inside.
An apparently almost inevitable England goal arrived when the fallout from Fran Kirby’s short corner resulted in Kailen Sheridan punching a cross which dropped kindly for Millie Bright. Excellent throughout, the Chelsea defender made the very most of it, unleashing a gloriously technically assured volley which was already traveling inexorably towards the back of the net when, deep in the six-yard box, it glanced off Jordyn Huitema.
If that served as confirmation that England’s improvement under Wiegman is real and they are not merely flat-track bullies, tricky tests against Spain and Germany – who drew 1-1 on Thursday afternoon – lie ahead in a week-long tournament designed as a warm -up for July’s European showpiece.
Given the way Hemp and Kirby persistently ruffled Canadian composition as Mary Earps was largely kept underemployed, England could well prove equal to those challenges. Yet, perhaps inevitably, caveats remain. For all the sharpness and slickness of the Lionesses’ possession game and despite their interspersing of one- and two-touch short passing cameos with Hemp’s runs at defenders, Sheridan was not overexerted.
It might have been different had Buchanan not made a series of vital blocks but Alessia Russo, Wiegman’s centre-forward, hardly placed Ellen White’s European Championship place under real threat. White started on the bench.
Then, at the end of an interchange involving Ashley Lawrence, Huitema and Beckie, Earps was finally beaten. Beckie reveled in putting her Manchester City teammates among the opposition in their place by taking a steadying touch and sending a rising shot curving imperiously over the goalkeeper from the edge of the area.
As good as that leveler undeniably what it will not have been lost on Wiegman that it stemmed from a cheap concession of possession in midfield.
With Quinn making a difference for Priestman’s side after stepping off the bench and Jessie Fleming increasingly impressive, the moment had arrived for the talismanic Lucy Bronze to replace Rachel Daly and make her first appearance under Wiegman following knee surgery.
Yet although her fellow substitute Nikita Parris had a decent looking late penalty appeal rejected, even Bronze proved powerless to alter the narrative as England lost both concentration and control.