Nikita Parris and Jill Scott give England timely boost against Denmark

• England 2-0 Denmark
• Lionesses win penultimate match before World Cup

Phil Neville described Nikita Parris as a “jewel” who needs protecting as he attempts to carefully manage the fitness of his England squad before the World Cup.

“The kid’s had such a big 10 days,” said England’s coach of Parris, who scored the Lionesses’ first goal and is to join European champions Lyon from Manchester City this summer. “The girl from Toxteth is going to be going to France. It will have big emotional strain on her, it’s her first time away from home. We wanted to protect her but she’s a goal threat.

“I just need to make sure we conserve that energy that she’s got, she’s buzzing around, she wants to train 27 hours a day and we just need to make sure we manage her well. The World Cup is the best thing in her life. She’s dreamt about it and we need to protect the jewels we’ve got.”

Neville selected an experimental England starting XI that saw off a spirited challenge from Denmark in their penultimate friendly. Parris, swept in from the edge of the box to close a frustrating first half and swing the game in the Lionesses’ favour before a Beth Mead cross was cleanly headed home by Jill Scott after the break to secure the win. But it was Denmark who began on the front foot. Early pressure saw Sanne Troelsgaard curling an effort over the bar in the second minute.

“I think the players needed it,” said Neville of a tough first half. “We half expected that kind of performance, a little bit leggy, coming off the back of the end of the season. We’ve trained them hard and we obviously had the team bonding day the other day where they got one or two hours sleep. And the pitch was energy-sapping.

“But the disappointment in the first half was that we didn’t play with any kind of rhythm we played stand still football which is not what we do. And then when we got into areas we looked so excitable and we made the wrong decisions. It just looked messy, there was no composure on the pitch and it was important that we had that type of game because [at the World Cup] we’re going to be in front of 31,000 and there’s going to be even bigger pressure on us.”

With Pernille Harder - who took top spot in the Guardian’s inaugural 100 best female footballers of the year – barking instructions, pointing and directing from the front, Denmark, who will not be in France, caused all kinds of trouble. Harder and Juventus’s Sofie Junge harried and pressed an unusual middle trio of Scott, Georgia Stanway and Jade Moore to great effect.

England slowly grew into the game. On 25 minutes, Parris collected on the left and laid it back to Stanway, who sent a swooping ball over the top towards an inrushing Scott, who connected but could only steer over from point-blank range under pressure from Denmark’s goalkeeper Katrine Abel.

On the stroke of half-time the Lionesses pounced. Mead swung a free-kick in from the right. Cleared by a diving Danish head it landed at the feet of Parris, who quickly controlled and fired home.

Nikita Parris celebrates scoring.
Nikita Parris celebrates scoring. Photograph: Barry Coombs/PA

Buoyed by the goal, England looked more purposeful after the break and on 59 minutes England had a second. Mead provided her second assist by placing the ball on to the head of Scott, who was arriving by the penalty spot, and she headed in powerfully.

This was not an all-conquering England performance. Neville is struggling to find his best fit in the middle in the absence of the injured Jordan Nobbs and Izzy Christiansen.The experiment of 20-year-old Stanway between Scott and Moore was not altogether convincing, while White will need to be more clinical across the Channel. What this test did show is that England’s squad players have the ability to grind out a result against resilient opposition.

“We could have been better, we could have moved the ball better,” said Scott. “But overall getting that result and carrying that momentum into the World Cup is the main thing.”