Fran on target again

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Fran Kirby waits to pounce during the England v Australia game at Craven Cottage


Chelsea superstar Fran Kirby was again on target at Craven Cottage as England drew 1-1 with Australia’s Matildas… the second successive game for her country where Fran has been the crucial markswoman.

After seeing off Brazil in a 1-0 win, England looked poised to repeat the scoreline – and scorer – right up to the dying moments of an end-to-end friendly which captivated a crowd of more than 6,000 on Tuesday evening.

But Australia were, as manager Phil Neville warned, made of sterner stuff than the Brazilians, and a momentary lapse in marking in the 85th minute saw lofty defender Clare Polkinghorne steal in unmarked to nod home a corner kick through the legs of keeper Mary Earps.

It was a disappointing end to an absorbing match, but Neville’s anger wasn’t directed towards his players but to the French officials, particularly ref Florence Guillemin, who disregarded a couple of decent shouts for penalties which could have given the Lionesses a comfortable victory.

Though Neville has won six of his 10 matches in charge of England, he felt the injustice of some of Tuesday night’s decisions.

Not usually a man to lose his cool or disrespect officials, he had some harsh words after the draw. “The standard of refereeing worries me,” he said, choosing his words with care. “If we want to make the women’s game absolute top, we are putting the players under immense pressure to challenge them to be better professionals and have better quality – every country in the world is on the same pathway, not just England – and then I see a performance like that tonight. That is my biggest concern.”

England dominated the friendly, but could not add a cushion to Fran Kirby’s opening strike in the 21st minute. Capitalising on a misplaced kick by Aussie keeper Mackenzie Arnold, she gratefully accepted an interception and pass by fellow forward Beth Mead and did a full-circle pirouette before slamming home with a left-foot shot that was simple and sublime.

But when England felt they had doubled their advantage one minute before half-time, ref Guillemin gave an incorrect offside against Lucy Staniforth… and then decided not to award a penalty when Mead was clearly illegally upended in the Matilda area in the first minute of stoppage time.

In the 80th minute came an even bigger howler by the ref when Nikita Parris, on as sub shortly after the hour mark, was felled clumsily when she was tripped up in the box.

Neville leapt up and down in the technical area, Parris protested loudly, the crowd roared with rage… but the French referee was unmoved.

“Beth Mead has not dived for the first decision,” insisted Neville later. “There’s clear contact. The second decision was a strange one. I am 40 yards away and the ref is 20 yards away.

“She has looked across at her assistant and asked her to help her out when everyone in Fulham could see it was a penalty. It is a mystery. She should be brave enough to make the decision herself.

“These last two games have been frustrating, that the players who have worked so hard have not got their just rewards by beating Brazil and Australia 3-0 or 4-0.

“That is not being disrespectful to both countries, who are really good teams and will do well in the World Cup. That is what I saw on the balance of both games.

“I take responsibility for the chances because every single day I go on about freedom of expression, passing the ball, dribbling and one on ones. Maybe it is time to go back to ‘just leather the ball into the back of the net’.”

It was another great night for Kirby, who beavered away ceaselessly. But disappointingly there was no space for Carly Telford, Millie Bright or Hannah Blundell, her Chelsea team-mates, who waited on the bench and were not given the wink.

It’s back to club action this weekend for Chelsea Women, who take on Arsenal at Kingsmeadow on Sunday at 2pm. Tickets still available.


Phil Neville, who criticised the refereeing standards, arrives at Craven Cottage