International Challenge Match
St George's Park
Report courtesy of the Scottish Schools FA.
The stage was set for the first of three meetings with the "Auld Enemy" this season as the Scottish Schools U15 girls squad, sponsored by Lloyds TSB Scotland, travelled to the new home of the English FA. The new state of the art facility at St George's Park in Burton, costing over £100 million, was the venue for the first of those meetings. The team had assembled on the Thursday and trained before travelling to the Midlands on the Friday.
Another training session in Derby had set the team up for the first International challenge match between the two sides since Scotland had played host to England at Toryglen last year. England would be looking to reverse the scoreline from the last meeting where Scotland had run out comfortable 4-0 winners.
The Scotland team boasted seven players from last year and England could field one who had played in the game at Toryglen and also in the fixture in the Bob Docherty Tournament held in Dublin last year.
The indoor pitch at St George's has exactly the same dimensions as Wembley itself so you can imagine the space available for these young players. The girls gazed at the pitch with excitement and a sense of pride as history would be made here today. This was the first International match of any kind to be played at the St George's Park complex. This sense of occasion was also bestowed on the Scottish Schools U15 Girls team at home four years ago when they played and beat the Republic of Ireland in the inaugural International match at Toryglen in Glasgow.
The players emerged from the Paul Gascoigne changing rooms with the famous picture of the ex-International player in tears as a backdrop. It was his fellow countrymen that this determined group of Scottish ladies hoped would be feeling the same way at the end of this encounter. The girls came onto the pitch walking beside their English counterparts to the cheers of the enthusiastic parents and friends of both countries. The sense of pride was there for all to see and hear as the players and supporters announced their presence as the national anthem started. After the formal presentations to the presidents of both Associations it was time for this highly anticipated game to start.
It was the home team who started the brightest with some neat short-passing sequences. The opening exchanges were as expected full of nerves for both teams.
The Scottish back four however, marshalled by captain Courtney Whyte, kept the English strikers at arm's length. Courtney's partner at the heart of the defence Donna Paterson attacked the ball confidently, both in the air and on the ground, which set the tone of the defending for the day.
This "thou shall not pass!" attitude rubbed off on the full backs where both Cassie Cowper and Rachel Ross set up a very strong defensive line which the English strikers found difficult to get past. Becky Flaherty in the Scottish goal was very happy to deal with shots from distance.
The first real chance of the early exchanges fell to Cailin Michie as she burst through in the inside-left channel. The chance was all of her own making as she battled and outmuscled two English defenders to get a powerful shot at the opposition's goal which was well parried and eventually collected by Chloe Beattie. It was time now for Scotland to get a grip of the ball and show the passing skills that had been in evidence in all four warm-up games.
Erin Cuthbert was now coming into the game confident in the knowledge that Amy Lynch was tucked in behind her, providing the platform for this intelligent footballer to get on the ball. A wonderful ball from Erin to Amy Gallacher split the English defence - Amy was on it in a flash but with this new longer astro grass it appeared to hold up and she could not quite get the ball out of her feet and pulled her left-footed shot narrowly past the keeper's left-hand post. These chances and possession had helped to settle the nerves of the Scots but typically in this "funny old game" it was the home team who struck first.
Lucy Shepherd picked up the ball on the right-hand side and evaded a couple of tackles from the Scottish defence to deliver a dangerous ball into the box. Pressure from the onrushing attacker caused the ball to fall at Georgie Stanway's feet, Rachel Ross made a fantastic block for the initial shot but as chance would have it the ball fell to Laura Hooper to prod the ball over the line. 1-0 to England (20m).
Instead of deflating the young Scots the goal only galvanised them. It was a delight to see them mature instantly as the sleeves were rolled up and with Courtney Whyte driving them from the back and firing in dangerous free kicks at every opportunity it was obvious to the casual observer that this game still had goals in it.
The wide players of Scotland now did their bit for the cause - Chelsea Cornet probed and teased the defenders before being replaced by Sam Kerr and on the left Chantelle Brown was a constant threat, attacking Jordan Littlejohn at every opportunity. As the halftime whistle approached it was looking like a rallying team talk would be required, however Erin Cuthbert had other ideas.
She picked up the ball at the edge of the box and danced her way past two defenders and from the right-hand side of the area sent an unstoppable shot across the keeper into the back of the net, 1-1 (30m). The travelling Scottish fans raised the roof of this new facility. It was no more than the young Scots deserved.
Half Time: England Schoolgirls 1-1 Scotland Schoolgirls
The second half started as the first had finished with Scotland having a lot of the ball in dangerous areas. Sam Kerr and Katie Rice were now the wide players and continued where Chelsea Cornet and Chantelle Brown had started in the first half. It was a joy to see the pace of the players and the tempo of the game on this massive pitch.
Amy Gallacher, who was a thorn in the English defence all day, had a half chance early in the second half to take the lead but it was set-plays that were causing the home team problems and in the 42nd minute Scotland scored from yet another dangerous Courtney Whyte free kick. Amy Gallacher was fouled around 35 yards from goal and Courtney Whyte stepped up to drive the ball for goal, the ball crashed off the crossbar and went high into the air.
Sam Kerr attacked the ball, soaring above her English counterpart as it came back down, and headed it back across goal - Cailin Michie had an attempt to send it goalward but the ball fell invitingly to Katie Rice who neatly placed the ball beyond Chloe Beattie in the goal, 1-2 (42m).
The joy of scoring for your country against England was etched all over her face as she was mobbed by her ecstatic team mates.
It was important that Rachel Ross and Jamie Lee Smith who had come on to replace Cassie Cowper kept their concentration at this very important time in the game. Sophie Sweeney had come on to replace Amy Gallacher who had run her heart out for the cause. Sophie Sweeney caused the English defence a new problem as she picked up the ball deeper and turned to run at the now tiring defenders.
Chelsea Cornet came back on to the middle of the park to provide even more ammunition for the strikers and wide players. However you can never rest on your laurels and take possession and chances for granted at International level. The English girls got a break from a moment of over-casual play from the Scots defence. Georgie Stanway pounced on the opportunity and drove towards the Scots goal.
Laura Hamilton, who had had very little to do, did what all good keepers should and stood up tall to make the striker have to make a decision. The striker hit the ball sweetly but fortunately for Scotland Laura got two strong hands to the ball to keep it out, and as it came back into play Erin Cuthbert who had already covered every blade of the new pitch whacked the ball clear with a look that said "get out... and stay out!"
This scare for Scotland only acted as a catalyst to push on and go for the third goal that would surely seal the victory. In a typical footballing scenario the decisive goal came just two minutes after Laura Hamilton's great stop.
The grit and determination from the new central defensive partnership of Jade McLaren and Donna Paterson were driving the team forward and a ball from Donna set the electric Chantelle Brown away through the heart of the English defence. With three defenders in her wake Chantelle Brown had the composure to lift the ball over the head of Jessica Lewandowski in the English goal, 1-3 (59m).
It was a very well deserved goal for not only the tireless work of Chantelle but the work rate of all seventeen Scotland players. A deserved third goal for a deserved victory in the expensive backyard of our hosts. The final whistle was met with the noise expected at Wembley itself.
Very proud parents mixed with very proud players and very proud staff. We meet again for the second leg of this three game series in early April in Belfast where both teams will be attempting to win the Bob Docherty Tournament when they are joined by Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Wales. If the games are half as good and half as exciting as this one then we are all in for a feast of football.
Thanks must go to our hosts for the opportunity to play in such a wonderful arena and we are all looking forward to meeting in the Bob Docherty Tournament and then extending our welcome to England when we meet up to play at Toryglen on Saturday 20th April.
Full Time: England Schoolgirls 1-3 Scotland Schoolgirls
Chantelle BROWN (Larkhall Academy)
Chelsea CORNET (Beeslack HS, Penicuik)
Cassie COWPER (Kincorth Academy, Aberdeen)
Erin CUTHBERT (Greenwood Academy, Irvine)
Becky FLAHERTY (Banchory Academy)
Amy GALLACHER (Morgan Academy, Dundee)
Laura HAMILTON (Gleniffer HS, Paisley)
Samantha KERR (Graeme HS, Falkirk)
Amy LYNCH (Currie HS)
Jade McLAREN (Madras College, St.Andrews)
Cailin MICHIE (Boroughmuir HS, Edinburgh)
Donna PATERSON (Banff Academy)
Katie RICE (St.Ninian's HS, Giffnock)
Rachel ROSS (Greenfaulds HS, Cumbernauld)
Jamie Lee SMITH (Trinity Academy, Edinburgh)
Sophie SWEENEY (Bishopbriggs Academy)
Alyshia WALKER (Bathgate Academy)
Courtney WHYTE (St.Roch's Secondary, Glasgow)