Jodie Taylor earns plaudits as England seek World Cup momentum

Manager Phil Neville admits he needs to work on improving service to his striker, who was top scorer at Euro 2017

Jodie Taylor’s first goal in an England shirt for 14 months served as a reminder of the adage about form being temporary but class permanent. It was the Seattle Reign striker’s second goal from open play since Phil Neville became England manager but it was enough to consign Argentina to a 1-0 defeat in Le Havre on Friday, guaranteeing the Lionesses a place in the knockout rounds.

Injuries have played their part but Taylor, winner of the Golden Boot at Euro 2017 in the Netherlands, has frequently seemed possibly the biggest casualty of Neville’s continuing switch from the more direct, counterattacking style used by his predecessor, Mark Sampson, to a possession-monopolising, patient passing game.

As Neville said in Le Havre on Friday night, Taylor is a striker who “thrives on through balls” and she “has not had the service she had before” with England. He also appreciates that the 33-year-old, on loan at Melbourne City, is an instinctive finisher who comes to life in the biggest games. It is why he says he is “working very hard” on accommodating her potentially tournament-winning strengths in his gameplans.

Arguably the biggest challenge confronting England’s manager is to sustain his team’s stylistic evolution without forfeiting the very real, if slightly less easy on the eye, strengths that swept the Lionesses to the final four of the last two major tournaments.

On a night when Argentina defended in depth, their goalkeeper Vanina Correa seemed to be wearing magnetic gloves and Nikita Parris had an early penalty saved, it was perhaps significant that Taylor’s second-half winner stemmed from a rapid counterattack following a rare South American attack.

In a blink of an eye she had ghosted into space, connected with Beth Mead’s stellar first-time cross and proved Correa was human after all. It left England needing only a draw with Japan on Wednesday night in Nice to top Group D and enjoy, theoretically at least, a straightforward passage to the semi-finals, where they are likely to meet either France or the United States in Lyon.

Taylor scored the only goal in the win over Argentina.
Taylor scored the only goal in the win over Argentina. Photograph: Paul Currie/BPI/REX/Shutterstock

Taylor celebrated with the intensity of a striker ending a long goal drought but said she had not really been doing anything different in the past 14 months.

“It didn’t really weigh on my mind because it’s the same process whether you score or not,” she said. “You’re still trying to be in the right place at the right time. A lot of it comes down to the service and I’m the first to admit I score because of my teammates.

“When we reached the semi-finals of Euro 2017 I won the Golden Boot because of their quality. It’s all about that quality in the final third. I think the ball from Beth Mead shows that – it was such a good delivery from Beth and I was in the right place to time my run and put it in the back of the net. It’s just so nice to score at major tournaments. It’s what it’s all about. It’s brilliant.”

Coincidentally, Mead and Taylor are roommates in France but their friendship is typical of the wider camaraderie among Neville’s squad.

“I do believe the closer you are as a team the better your performance will be on the pitch,” said Taylor. “You’re more likely to work harder for each other, to show belief in each other and encourage each other. We’ve got a really good togetherness.”

Important as their new-found desire to keep the ball and build from the back could well prove against the leading teams, such as France and the USA, the buildup to Taylor’s goal possibly also emphasised that the Lionesses’ enduring ability to turn hybrid, mix things up and break down opponents in different ways could yet prove one of their strongest suits. Philosophy and principles are all very well but sometimes a little compromise and pragmatism are required to balance the equation.

“We have to be a team that can bring a bit of everything,” emphasised Mead. “We’re heading in the right direction, we’re gaining momentum and it feels like we’re progressing but there are also things we need to work on.

“There are things we have to improve but we also have to remember the things we are good at. It’s about having the whole package. We also – apart from passing fluently – want to be known as a physical team, a hard team to play against. We’re not going to roll over, we’re never going to pull out of a 50-50 challenge. We have to be able to do a bit of everything.”

Neville certainly appreciates Taylor’s abilities. “She’s a massive player, a big-game player. I told Jodie before the game I knew she would score. After the Scotland game [the 2-1 victory in which Taylor was an unused substitute] her training performances, her attitude, the way that she has focused, we told Jodie very early on that she would be playing against Argentina.

The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.

“You reap your rewards from your training performances and that is what we saw from Jodie. She thrives off service, off balls through and the support from around her.

“ And I think in my time as manager, I have to say probably we’ve not given her the service she had in the Euros or past games for England, and it’s something we’re working really hard on.”

So far, so good but it seems Neville still has some blending to do.