England Women kicked-off their Women’s World Cup campaign with a 2-1 win over Scotland – thanks to impressive performances from a number of their North East contingent.
Goals from Nikita Parris and Ellen White saw the Lionesses climb to the top of Group D as they started life in France with a gutsy performance over the Auld Enemy.
Phil Neville’s squad contains no fewer than seven players with links to the North East and four of that contingent – Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Jill Scott and Beth Mead – started the opening game.
Former Sunderland stopper Carly Telford, former Alnwick student Lucy Staniforth and South Shields-born Demi Stokes were all unused substitutes – with the latter nursing a minor injury.
And the quartet who did feature were in the thick of it from the start, in a frenetic and highly-charged clash in the Stade de Nice.
Hetton-born Houghton was called into action early on, charging down a shot from the lively Erin Cuthbert, before former Sunderland Ladies forward Mead saw a cut-back narrowly evade White.
In front of a vocal crowd of over 13,000, both sides exchanged further early chances – but it was England who would take the lead in controversial circumstances on 17 minutes.
After Fran Kirby’s cross hit Nicola Docherty’s arm, VAR – which is being used for the first time at this year’s Women’s World Cup – ruled that a penalty should be awarded. Parris then did the rest, firing home a spot-kick into the top left corner.
It could have been two moments later, Mead teeing up Bronze whose fizzing delivery allowed White to strike towards goal – Lee Alexander making a fine save to keep the deficit to one.
The lead would be doubled before half-time, though, as White reacted quickest to fire home after Kirby had battled to win back possession on the edge of the area.
Mead, impressive throughout, thought she had added a third following the interval but saw her strike ruled-out after White had narrowly strayed into an offside position.
That spurred Scotland into action, and Shelley Kerr’s side were handed hope when Claire Emslie’s strike deflected off substitute Abbie McManus and found a way past Karen Bardsley – after the forward seized on a loose pass from Houghton.
Scottish tails were up – but they found Houghton and Bronze in imperious form at the back as she snuffed out a number of promising opportunities. Scott, too, played a key role as she kept playmaker Kim Little’s impact to a minimum.
And the role played by the North East quartet ultimately proved key in securing a hard-fought victory that sees Neville’s team kick-off the competition in the best possible.
It was far from a perfect performance from the Lionesses, but some strong individual performances proved enough against a Scotland side determined to make their mark on the world stage.
Indeed, both Scott and Bronze earned praise from BBC summariser Sue Smith, with the 93-cap former international hailing their role in the all-important triumph.
Manager Neville, however, has demanded improvement ahead of England’s remaining two group stage games.
“I was pleased with the result,” he admitted.
“The first game is always the most difficult one, but we set certain standards. The players know we need to keep hitting them and if we don’t, we get second half performances like that.
“We need to play like we did in the first half. We need to be relentless as we want to be here for the next 37 days.”
England face Argentina in their next group stage game on Friday, June 14 (kick-off 8pm).