Another day, another historic occasion for the new home of MCWFC...
City Football Academy hosted its first-ever international game on Thursday as England Women edged out their Chinese counterparts by a 2-1 scoreline.
In the build-up to the game, City striker Toni Duggan had said that Manchester was “screaming out for women’s football” and the evidence of that declaration was there for all to see.
A vocal, passionate 5,665 supporters turned out on a glorious spring evening at the Academy Stadium to see Jodie Taylor give the Lionesses a dream start, putting England ahead with less than a minute on the clock.
Fran Kirby, the architect of the first with a brilliant cross, quickly doubled the advantage, making it 2-0 after ten minutes, before Shanshang Wang halved the deficit five minutes later.
After that blistering opening quarter of an hour, there were no further goals, meaning England head for this summer's upcoming World Cup in Canada on the back of a solid win on a night where MCWFC's very own Jill Scott was named Player of the Match.
In what was the final audition for the last remaining spaces in Mark Sampson’s squad for the summer, just one MCWFC player was named in the starting XI at their new home stadium.
Scott made the starting line-up, while England regulars Karen Bardsley, Demi Stokes and Duggan had to content with places on the bench, while skipper Steph Houghton and full-back Lucy Bronze missed out altogether through injury.
England were taking on a China team lying ten places below them in the FIFA rankings but with plenty of international pedigree.
...England Women v China...
The night’s visitors finished as runners-up in the 1999 Women’s World Cup and have won a record eight AFC Women’s Asian Cups, so it would be no easy feat to jet off to the World Cup on a winning note.
Friendly defeats to USA and Germany either side of the turn of the year had just tempered some of the optimism generated by England’s stunning World Cup qualifying record.
The Lionesses had won all ten of their Group 6 matches, racking up 52 goals and conceding just once and last month they landed the Cyprus Cup to build confidence back up as they prepare to bid for football’s greatest prize in June.
A bright start to this much-changed England side was needed and that’s exactly what they got as Taylor put the home side ahead with just 58 seconds on the clock - just as the famous England band was first striking up!
Kirby’s outside of the foot cross was perfectly placed, in the corridor between the back four and goalkeeper, leaving Taylor with a simple finish under the body of the onrushing China goalkeeper.
The hosts had to wait just eight minutes to double their lead, with Kirby this time applying the finishing to the move, volleying into the roof of the net on the turn, just inside the penalty area.
China had their goalkeeper and the inside of the post to thank for not falling three goals behind inside the opening quarter of an hour but it was the visitors who would score the game’s third goal after 16 minutes.
A corner pinballed around the England box and Wang reacted quickest to send a looping header over Siobhan Chamberlain and make it 2-1.
Zhang denied Jill Scott a goal on home soil twice in the half hour between China’s goal and the half-time whistle, meaning Sampson’s side had to be satisfied with a narrow lead as they went in at the break.
China, backed by a strong local support, caused a few problems for the hosts either side of half-time and so Sampson looked to his bench and brought Duggan on for the final 30 minutes.
As you might expect, the City striker was given a warm welcome from those inside the Academy Stadium as she made her first international appearance of the calendar year.
She would have marked it with a headed goal just a couple of minutes after entering the field but but Zhang stood up well and held the attempt.
There were a couple of scares in the final 20 minutes as China looked for a response but victory would belong to England on the night City Football Academy hosted its first-ever international game.
ENGLAND XI: Chamberlain, Scott, Rafferty (Stoney, 71), Williams, Bassett, Greenwood, Nobbs (C) (Potter, 83), Scott (White, 90), Taylor (Sanderson, 78), Kirby (Aluko, 71), Moore (Duggan, 60)
ENGLAND SUBS: Bardsley, Stokes, Bonner, Chapman Clarke, White, Telford, Asante, Davison, Dowie
Player of the Match: Jill Scott