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England claimed a confidence boosting 3-1 victory over France, the reigning European Women's Under-19 champions, on a bitterly cold November evening at Sixfields Stadium.
On 30 minutes, Lucy Staniforth capitalised on an under-hit back pass to prod Mo Marley's side ahead, and Danielle Carter doubled the advantage on the stroke of half time, finishing off a slick move involving Drew Spence and Lara Fay. Then, with just quarter of an hour remaining, substitute Nikita Parris headed home Fay's cross to wrap up a deserved win. Rose Lavaud fired home a consolation strike in added time but it was too little, too late for Jean Michel Degrange's side.
With the exception of Caroline La Villa's dipping volley in the opening two minutes, in terms of chances the game took a while to get going, though both sides did exhibit some of the fine football that has seen England and France share the last two European Under-19 Championships.
Bar the effort from La Villa, which went wide, the opening 20 minutes were bereft of any clear cut chances and then, just like buses, three came along at once.
First, England skipper Jordan Nobbs sprayed a delightful ball out to Fay on the right wing and the Arsenal forward drove past the French left back, Cyndie Berthet, before forcing Pauline Peyraud Magnin to turn the ball behind at her near post. Alex Greenwood knocked the subsequent corner over the bar before France fashioned their own chance almost immediately; Maron Guitard found a yard of space on the right and delivered a cross to Angelina Doguet but she fired over.
These few minutes of action brought a sizeable Sixfields crowd to life and Fay came within a whisker of giving them something to really cheer about. She was again found in space on the right, jinked her way past Berthet once more, then past the onrushing centre back, Othelie Brevet, but curled a delicious effort just wide of the far post.
On the half hour mark, however, England did go ahead and they had Ludivine Coulomb to thank for her role in the opener. The defender played a weak back pass to her 'keeper and Staniforth made her pay, sliding in ahead of Peyraud Magnin to direct the ball home.
Just before the break, things got even better for the hosts as Carter steered home their second of the night. Spence, breaking from midfield, and Fay dovetailed beautifully in the centre of the field, allowing the former to slip a through ball into the area for the Arsenal forward, who found the corner of the net with a confident finish.
France introduced Lavaud at the break and the forward, who scored the equaliser for France in June, almost had an instant impact, clipping a crossfield ball to fellow sub Sidonie Demarle and it took a splendid, well timed sliding tackle from Greenwood to avert the danger inside the box.
Attempting to bridge the two-goal deficit, the visitors dominated the opening ten minutes of the second half but only called Saunders into action once during that period, and the England stopper was fully behind La Villa's 20-yard shot.
Nobbs attempted to curb the French pressure after finding herself free on the right-hand side of the box, only for her firm dig to be repelled by the goalkeeper's legs.
England eventually found their second half rhythm and the newly-introduced Nikita Parris, and then Carter, were the next players to ask questions of Magnin in quick succession. Nobbs tried an audacious chip from distance, too, before Parris sealed victory on 75 minutes, heading home, low and into the corner, giving the 'keeper no chance.
Lavaud managed a late, late consolation, and probably deserved to do so for her own, individual performance, but next up for England is a trip to Croatia early next year and they will go there with confidence coursing through their veins.
England under-19: Tatiana Saunders (sub Danielle Gibbons 78mins), Georgia Kearney-Perry (sub Hannah Short 78mins), Naomi Cole (sub Jemma Rose 78mins), Alex Greenwood, Jordan Butler, Lucy Staniforth (sub Nikita Parris 65mins), Drew Spence (sub Charley Clifford 65mins), Jordan Nobbs (sub Chloe Dale 86mins), Danielle Carter, Lara Fay, Lauren Bruton (sub Emma Follis 65mins). (TheFA.com)
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