Striker Kayleigh Green was the hero for Wales on Tuesday evening as her injury-time goal sealed a memorable 1-0 victory over New Zealand at the Leckwith Stadium.
Wales 1-0 New Zealand
INTERNATIONAL CHALLENGE MATCH
- Tuesday, 4 June 2019
- Leckwith Stadium, Cardiff
New Zealand went into this final warm-up match ahead of the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup on the back of a famous 1-0 win over England a few days before, and enjoyed more possession than they did against the Lionesses in the opening half, even though clear-cut chances were few and far between.
Wales have continued to struggle in-front of goal since the last qualifying campaign, but the combination of Green, Natasha Harding and Elise Hughes in attack offered hope of reversing a concerning trend in the early exchanges as Jayne Ludlow's side asked questions of their own on the counter-attack.
Sarah Gregorious was the hero for New Zealand against England, and had the first real effort of the match after 20 minutes, but her shot cleared Laura O'Sullivan's crossbar, and Olivia Chance mirrored the opportunity minutes later.
O'Sullivan had to be at her best after 30 minutes as the visitors continued to pressure the Welsh defence with a series of corners, but showed her true quality minutes before half-time as she superbly saved a penalty from Gregorious. The last chance of the half fell to an unlikely source, as Sophie Ingle carried the ball forward and combined well with Charlie Estcourt, but the captain's effort was saved by Erin Nayler.
Yellow cards for Hughes and Green early in the second half suggested a growing frustration for Wales as New Zealand continued to enjoy the better possession. Substitute Rosie White and Katie Bowen came close for the visitors as both sides made a series of changes around the hour mark, while Green and impressive substitute Emma Jones tested Nayler at the other end of the field.
But the highlight of night would not arrive until injury-time when Green scored the deciding goal to send the fans wild as she converted a deep ball into the area that was headed back across the box. It was a deserved return for Green who had put in another committed performance throughout the night, and finally brought Wales' goal drought to an end in dramatic style.
Ladd taking a senior role
Hayley Ladd was presented with her belated 50th golden cap prior to kick-off, and the defender put in another composed performance in the heart of the Wales defence. The 25-year old made her senior debut for Wales against New Zealand back in June 2011, and her progress in the eight years that have passed since was more than apparent. Keeping Hannah Wilkinson relatively quiet in the opening half added to the frustration for the visitors, and few opposition strikers will look forward to Ladd's close attention when the next qualifying campaign begins.
Attendance of 2,011 in the capital
Heavy rain in the build-up to the match may not have had a negative impression on the excellent Leckwith Stadium surface, but it probably prevented Wales from setting another women's friendly international attendance record. However, the team were once again cheered on by over 2,000 fans, and the following that the team has built up over the course of the last campaign has now established itself as part of the identity associated with this squad of players. Such support will be vital when EURO 2021 qualifying begins later this year, and the girls love having the red wall right behind them.
The Ferns head to the biggest stage
The Netherlands, Canada and Cameroon will provide the opposition for New Zealand in Group E when the action begins in France this weekend. Despite this defeat, the Football Ferns will take confidence from a constructive couple of games against England and Wales in their build-up to the tournament. Veteran manager Tom Sermanni has developed a well-organised and well-drilled group of players. However, while they created effectively when in possession, there are clear defensive vulnerabilities that could be exposed when the serious business begins.
The manager's view – Jayne Ludlow
“It was a great test for us and we're thankful they wanted to play us. We created chances, and the most important and pleasing thing was the intensity we had at the end of the game. Having players to come off the bench and make an impact is something that every team wants and the challenge for the players is one they've taken on. Reality for us is that everyone in the squad has two positions. We've beaten a team who are heading to the World Cup, and it was a test that we needed right now. Clean sheets are a priority for us and we had that again tonight, and if we can take our chances at the other end, then that's a bonus.”
It was almost a year since Wales had last celebrated a goal, but the late winner from the talented Kayleigh Green was more than a deserved return from a performance that once again highlighted a number of positives for Jayne Ludlow and her squad ahead of EURO 2021 qualifying. The last campaign was built upon a solid defence, but there are more attacking options in this side than ever before, and adding players like Elise Hughes and Emma Jones in those attacking positions offers plenty of belief that the right balance may have been finally found.
Wales: O'Sullivan, Dykes, Gemma Evans, Ingle (c), Roberts, Hughes (Nolan - 60), Ward (Jones - 60), Estcourt (Wynne - 83), Green, Harding, Ladd.
Unused subs:, Clark, Filbey, Lloyd, Woodham, Powell, Georgia Evans.
Goals: Green (90+1).
New Zealand: Nayler, Percival (Hassett - 58), Green, Stott, Riley (c), Erceg, Longo (Satchell - 83), Gregorious (Kete - 73), Bowen, Wilkinson (White - 45), Chance.
Unused subs: Bott, Moore, Morton, Duncan, Skilton, Cleverly, Esson, Olla.
Referee:Lizzy Van Der Helm (Netherlands)
Assistants:Fijke Hoogendijk and Diana Snoeren (Netherlands)
Fourth Official: Cheryl Foster (Wales)