“They worked really hard this week. Their attitude to training and meetings and the way they have been with each other has been exceptional, so they deserve that performance.”- England Manager Mark Sampson
“We’ve struggled in the last couple of games, so for us to come back home score a lot of goals and play really well was the main thing to get the Lionesses back on the map.”- Hat-Trick Hero Karen Carney
Karen Carney bagged a hat-trick as England put in a memorable performance against Serbia to boost their European Championship qualification hopes. Goals from Carney, Alex Greenwood, Ellen White, Isobel Christiansen and debutant Rachel Daly were enough to secure a 7-0 victory for the home side.
England started off the game as the better of the two teams, and maintained their dominance over the ninety minutes. Early chances fell to Carney, White and Steph Houghton, with White rattling the woodwork and Houghton seeing her free-kick palmed away.
It took only sixteen minutes for the home side to take the lead, when Greenwood’s run was picked out on the left wing by Fara Williams. The left-back’s finish was one that any striker would be proud of, as she slotted the ball across goal from a tight angle past the Susanna Nilsson.
England were to have the chance to double their lead before the half hour mark, with Lucy Bronze’s header going narrowly wide and with a number of long distance efforts not being dealt with comfortably by the Serbian goalkeeper.
With thirty-three minutes of the game gone, White won England a penalty when Mirela Tenkov bundled her over in the area. Carney stepped up to take it and comfortably fired it into the bottom left corner.
England were to make it 3-0 before the half-time interval. When the ball fell to White in the area it appeared as if she was going to be the one to make it three goals to the good but instead she squared the ball to Daly. It was very unselfish play from White who subsequently handed Daly a goal to round off her debut.
Before the half came to an end Serbia were to have an attempt on goal but Marija Radojicic’s limp header was easily collected by a largely untested Karen Bardsley.
The home side began the second half with the same determination and control and looked like they had many goals left in them. Fara Williams, in particular, looked determined to convert a long range effort but Nilsson prevented any of her efforts from hitting the back of the net.
Approaching the hour mark, White was certainly thrilled to finally get herself on the scoresheet if her celebration was anything to go by. After cutting inside, the striker curled the ball into the back of the net from six yards to make it 4-0 to England. Serbia were continuously sitting so deep that they had no way out if they ever won back possession. As a result, the away side just invited on more pressure as the game went on.
Subsequently, England had to wait only a matter of seconds for their fifth goal. After falling to Carney at the edge of the area, her shot on goal was blocked into the path of Christiansen. The midfielder, who only recently returned from injury, then poked the ball into the net from close range. Despite having so many bodies back defending, Serbia still could not prevent England from adding to an ever increasing scoreline.
Substitute, and debutant, Nikita Parris nearly made it six for the Lionesses straight after her introduction, but her header was blocked on the line. Parris played a key role for Carney’s second, however, when she headed the ball down for her team-mate. Bundling in from close range, Carney took the score to 6-0.
It only took a matter of minutes for the Chelsea striker to get her hat-trick. Tijana Krstic attempted to clear the ball but in the process fired straight at Carney. Despite knowing very little about it, Carney volleyed the ball into the net from two yards out. The score was 7-0 and England were firmly in control.
Going into the last moments of the game, England were still looking for more. Substitute Gemma Davison had an opportunity to get on the scoresheet when the ball broke to her in space on the left. Instead of selfishly taking the shot on, however, she opted to try to square it to Parris but failed to execute it. White was also denied in the last few seconds from close range.
It was a vast scoreline for the Lionesses but in truth it could probably have been even greater. England were the better side by far, with Serbia happy to sit with eleven players in their own third for the vast majority of the game. Even when they were six or seven goals down, there was very little enthusiasm present amongst the away squad who showed very little intent when it came to attacking.
The result was a huge improvement on England’s 1-0 victory against Bosnia and saw them extend their unbeaten run in European Championship qualifying to five games. Despite Fran Kirby and Gilly Flaherty withdrawing only days before, the England squad put in a highly impressive performance albeit against underwhelming opposition. White and Carney are probably the outstanding candidates for MOTM but it was a team performance to be proud of.
After this win, England stay second in their group behind Belgium who have played one extra game. If England can win the reverse fixture against Serbia on Tuesday, however, they can go top. If today’s performance is any indicator of how that match will go, it seems that it is a foregone conclusion.