Ali Riley captained New Zealand to a surprise victory over England as Fran Kirby, Karen Carney and Carly Telford were left to rue the Lionesses’ missed chances as their final warm-up match before the World Cup ended in a 1-0 defeat.
Kirby and Carney, the latter arguably England’s best performer in Brighton after coming off the bench early in the second half, were involved in much of their team’s most promising work, but the Lionesses couldn’t find a way past goalkeeper Erin Nayler despite dominating possession.
England manager Phil Neville rotated his team a week before the start of the World Cup, making 10 changes from the side which had beaten Denmark.
That meant Chelsea’s Telford coming in as goalkeeper, while Kirby started in a deeper position than she usually takes up for the Blues, playing behind the lone the striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Millie Bright, Carney and Hannah Blundell were among the England substitutes, and on the other side, their club team-mate Riley skippered New Zealand from left-back.
Kirby in particular looked sharp as England started brightly, putting the goalkeeper under pressure as New Zealand tried to build from the back.
That high pressure nearly paid dividends after just 10 minutes, when Kirby intercepted the keeper’s pass and played in Jodie Taylor with a perfectly weighted first-time pass. However, Taylor’s first touch was loose and the referee remained unmoved by the penalty appeals when Taylor seemed to be caught by the goalkeeper as she tried to get the ball out of her feet.
Having been little more than a spectator for most of the first half, Telford was called into action to make a good save right on the verge of the break, stretching to tip a looping shot from the edge of the box over the crossbar.
However, shortly after half-time England went behind against the run of play. Telford couldn’t hold a long-range effort after seeing it late though a crowd of bodies and Sarah Gregorius reacted quicker than the defenders to slot in the rebound.
Neville responded by bringing on Carney, who is preparing to travel to her ninth consecutive major international tournament with the Lionesses, replacing Toni Duggan on the left wing to earn her 140th cap for her country.
Carney resumed the link-up with Kirby we have seen at Kingsmeadow almost immediately, cutting in from the wing and sliding a great pass into the channel for her fellow Blue, but Kirby’s cross was blocked for a corner.
Carney combined with Kirby again, beating three players from the left, before getting the ball back in the box from Kirby’s chipped pass over the back line, but her shot on goal was well held by Nayler.
All of England’s best work was coming through Carney as she created another good chance, this time floating an excellent cross to the back post, but another substitute Jill Scott couldn’t get her header on target from close range.
That told the tale of the closing stages, as despite plenty of pressure the Lionesses couldn’t find the equaliser against New Zealand’s sturdy defesive display.