Lionesses run riot at St Mary's


England Women were in ruthless mood as they opened up their 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign with a dominant display on their return to St Mary’s.

The Lionesses ran out 8-0 winners at the expense of North Macedonia, but in truth might easily have hit double figures, having racked up some 81 per cent possession and 48 shots.

Ella Toone’s calm finish was all the hosts had to show for their monopoly of the first 42 minutes, but further goals from Ellen White and an own goal from Julija Zivikj gave the half-time score a more befitting look.

White struck again from the penalty spot, while her replacement Beth England was also on target before another own goal seemingly completed the rout.

Instead the Lionesses showed no mercy as they added two more in the final seconds, as England headed home Beth Mead’s cross, before the impressive Mead drove a low shot inside the near post to finish the job.

Facing opponents ranked 131st in the world, the home crowd were expectant and were not let down by an England team that created chances at will.

Rachel Daly set the tone inside 30 seconds, crossing for Lauren Hemp to send a looping header over the bar, as Daly’s deliveries quickly became a feature of England’s play.

Beth Mead was twice sent crashing to earth by a couple of crunching tackles from a physical North Macedonia side intent on halting attacks at source.

But the winger did free herself to deliver a teasing cross that ought to have been converted by serial goalscorer White, for once off target at the near post.

Daly then produced another cross that was headed wide by Toone, but the midfielder would soon make amends with the deadlock breaker on 12 minutes.

The goal owed much to the vision of Leah Williamson, whose first-time pass dissected the defence, inviting Toone to run through unopposed and score with a low shot that sneaked through goalkeeper Suarta Dervishi.

England were utterly dominant, but their finishing was regularly awry as Dervishi was too often not tested from presentable openings.

Georgia Stanway twice snatched at shooting chances, as did Mead, whose half-volley veered away from goal.

By the half-hour mark, the visitors had done well to contain the Lionesses, whose tidal wave of chances had dried up.

Injuries to Toone and Dervishi also served to halt England’s momentum, resulting in lengthy stoppages, but both goalscorer and goalkeeper were fit to continue.

Getting to half-time only a goal down would have been deemed a success for North Macedonia, but predatory striker White was in typically ruthless mood to double England’s advantage shortly before the interval.

Toone’s persistence was instrumental, as the Manchester United player forced the ball into the path of her Manchester City teammate, and White did the rest, sweeping home her 40th international goal.

If that was a blow for the visitors, the third goal was a disaster, as some quick-thinking from a corner saw Alex Greenwood’s cross inadvertently turned into her own net by Zivikj, who was visibly upset.

Mead’s fleet-footed wing play deserved another goal, only for White to let North Macedonia off the hook by shooting over the top, as England ended the half as they’d started it, in flying form.

The minnows knew they were a beaten side, best illustrated by a couple of wildly optimistic attempts from at least 40 yards, while the crossing of Daly continued to threaten their goal at the other end.

Hemp was again the target two minutes into the second half, seeing her header deflect off Sara Kolarovska and clip the crossbar en route behind for the first in a series of corners.

The chances from crosses kept coming. White couldn’t make the right connection to steer one in from Hemp, while Demi Stokes’s teasing centre was headed over by the No. 9.

But in skipper Williamson England have an elegant midfield player who was at the heart of most moves, and her clever body movement to draw a foul on the 18-yard line earned a penalty, from which White slotted into the bottom corner, finally scoring the second goal she’d been threatening.

There was to be no hat-trick for White – now just five goals shy of the all-time record – who was substituted soon after, but that did not stop England pouring forward.

Substitute Jill Scott struck the crossbar, while Toone twice forced saves from Dervishi, before England, White’s replacement, profited from some generous goalkeeping to head in from point-blank range.

Sara Kolarovska put through her own net with England in prime position to poach another, as North Macedonia wilted in the closing stages.

England must have been wondering how many she might have scored had she started the game, particularly after dispatching an inch-perfect cross from Mead with an equally precise header, before the dazzling winger deservedly scored one of her own, darting in from the left and drilling the ball inside Dervishi’s near post.

Earps; Daly (Charles 81), Bright (Wubben-Moy 63), Greenwood, Stokes; Stanway (Scott 71), Williamson, Toone; Mead, White (England 71), Hemp (Parris 63).

Subs not used: MacIver, Telford, Zelem, Staniforth, Salmon, Carter.

Toone 12, White 42, 67 (pen), Zivikj o.g. 45, England 77, 90, Kolarovska o.g. 79, Mead 90.

S. Dervishi; Polozhani, Kolarovska, Nikolovska, Zivikj; Saliihi (Petrueshevska 78), Mustafa (Mileska 86), Andonova, Markovska (R. Dervishi 46), Maksuti (Dimoska 90); Rochi. 

Subs not used: Levovska, Kolevska, Bošeska, Paneska, Chubrinovska, Choneva, Petrovska, Jankovska.

Maria Martinez Madrona.