Phil Neville conceded that it was entirely fair for people to be questioning his tenure after England’s “unacceptable” SheBelieves Cup campaign crawled to a close with a 1-0 defeat to an impressive Spain team.
“I went through five managers in Valencia for better records than I’ve got at this moment in time. David Moyes lost his job at Manchester United with probably a better record than I’ve got so I take responsibility,” said Neville in a tense post-match interview. “I’ve got 100% confidence in my own abilities as a manager. I know 100% that I’ve got the backing and trust of the players and now is where I think I’ve got to start earning my coin, being a better manager and the results need to improve.”
England’s performance was a small improvement on the preceding two games, against the USA and Japan, but once again they lacked any kind of cutting edge. Neville is likely safe in his job, with the FA having indicated they would be fully backing the 41-year-old regardless of results in the US, but it will not be enough to silence fan disquiet at seven defeats in 11 games.
With England appearing to go backwards since the World Cup last summer, his tenure must be in question. “I’m frustrated,” said Neville. “It’s probably the most disappointed I’ve felt since I’ve got the job. I feel a bit angry and ultimately there is a lot of self-reflection from my point of view on what we have seen in the last eight games. I do feel it is unacceptable and I’ve told the players it’s unacceptable. We have had honest conversations in the dressing room.”
Neville also demanded more support for his team that fly back business class when, given the coronavirus fears, the men’s team would likely charter a flight. “I have to say as the FA, we have to start protecting them a god damn better as well,” he said. “We sugar-coat things and try to play the party line. Ultimately standards need to be better from everybody.
“I think we all need to accept that if we want what we all talk about then standards need to improve. The players I will protect until the day I walk out of this job.”
Neville made eight changes to the team that scraped past a young Japan team that has most of its players off-season domestically, courtesy of a late Ellen White goal. Some of Neville’s changes were enforced by a growing injury list: captain Steph Houghton was rested but Chelsea and Birmingham will be sweating on the reported ankle strains to Beth England and first-choice goalkeeper Hannah Hampton. Both were seen wearing protective boots before kick off, having fallen foul of a bumpy training pitch on Tuesday. Manchester City winger Lauren Hemp, the breakout star in the US, sat out the Spain encounter through an illness not related to the coronavirus.
In the searing Texan heat and despite the changes, England looked their slickest of the tournament. There were still errors and Spain dominated possession, but the Lionesses did well to nullify an attack that had so troubled the world champions, the USA, on Sunday.
With Houghton absent from the starting line up, Millie Bright, who looked to have found a way to translate her fine Chelsea form into the national team at the SheBelieves Cup, worked well alongside Manchester United’s Abbie McManus. They were shielded by Arsenal’s Leah Williamson who revelled in a start in a more natural, if not the first choice of centre back, position.
The Lionesses’ brightest play came through Lyon winger Nikita Parris’s link up play with Leah Williamson and Jordan Nobbs and with Spain dominating possession, they had little to show for it.
Having said he would “manage the minutes” of Houghton and Millie Bright, Neville hooked the latter for the former at half time and it disrupted the solidity somewhat.
Spain smelt blood, and on the hour mark they almost took the lead. Ainhoa Moraza, having won the ball on the halfway line, cut past McManus and Houghton but onrushing goalkeeper Carly Telford, bidding to make the No 1 shirt her own, blocked the shot with her face.
There was a late flurry of changes which included England and North Carolina player Alessia Russo picking up her first minutes of the tournament but it was perhaps wrong for Neville to throw on the youngsters in a game he needed to win. While they did that, Spain turned to an experienced duo on the bench, and they combined for the goal. A Jenni Hermoso corner was turned in powerfully by Alexia Putellas.
More information: THE GUARDIAN.