England ended a tumultuous week for the women’s game with a 1-0 friendly defeat against 2019 World Cup hosts France.
The match – England’s first under interim coach Mo Marley – was a cagey affair with few clear-cut chances before Viviane Asseyi capitalised on goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain’s mistake to snatch victory.
On Wednesday, the Football Association was forced to apologise to two players for racially discriminatory remarks by previous England boss Mark Sampson.
Sampson was sacked in September following evidence of “inappropriate and unacceptable” behaviour with female players in a previous job.
England goalkeeping coach Lee Kendall – under investigation for alleged “unacceptable behaviour” towards striker Eni Aluko – was not at the match in Valenciennes.
Kendall not at England game
Relive England’s friendly with France as it happened
In what was a rematch of this summer’s Euro 2017 quarter-final, which England won 1-0, Marley’s side looked astute defensively and frustrated a partisan French crowd for long periods.
But when Chamberlain misjudged a late cross, Marseille’s Asseyi nodded into an empty net for a simple finish which was cruel on the visitors.
Business, but not as usual
The women’s game has not known a week like it.
And the saga took a new turn in the build-up to kick-off, with goalkeeping coach Kendall absent after becoming the subject of an FA investigation. Aluko alleges that the 36-year-old spoke to her in a fake Caribbean accent.
His place in Valenciennes was taken by men’s under-21 goalkeeping coach Tim Dittmer.
Aluko gave evidence to a Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee on Wednesday in which the FA apologised for comments made to Aluko and team-mate Drew Spence by Sampson.
Interim boss Marley has left the door open for Aluko – who has not played for England since April 2016 – to make an international return in the future, saying she would “100%” consider picking the Chelsea striker.
The FA’s head of women’s football – Baroness Sue Campbell – was in attendance at the Stade du Hainaut and said that chief executive Martin Glenn is “doing a very good job”, despite MP Damian Collins said there were “serious doubts” whether FA bosses were fit to continue.
Marley’s audition starts with defeat
The investigations into the conduct of key figures at the FA has seen discussion over the process of recruiting Sampson’s successor fall into the background.
But though victory – in what was a poor match – slightly flattered the hosts, it did little to boost Marley’s case for taking on the role full-time, with interviews for the position scheduled for 4 December.
The 50-year-old won 42 caps for the Lionesses as a player and has built her reputation with England’s age-group sides.
However, her first teamsheet saw a reversion to two seasoned campaigners, with record cap-holder Fara Williams and fellow midfielder Jill Scott recalled in place of Jade Moore and the injured Fran Kirby.
Scoring opportunities were at a premium, with Jodie Taylor floating a shot over from 20 yards, before Valerie Gauvin’s header was tipped around the post by Chamberlain before half-time.
Two substitutes combined as England appealed for a penalty five minutes from time, with Nikita Parris claiming her ankles had been clipped as she tried to latch onto Isobel Christiansen’s cut-back.
However, the referee was not swayed by their appeals and minutes later Asseyi accepted the invitation of an open goal after Chamberlain’s error to win the match.
Player of the match – Siobhan Chamberlain (England)
England resume their 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign with two matches on home soil next month.
The Lionesses, who won their first qualifying game against Russia 6-0, meet Bosnia-Herzegovina in Walsall on Friday, 24 November before hosting Kazakhstan at Colchester United on Tuesday, 28 November (both 19:05 GMT)