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England 4 (K.Smith 53, Harkin og 66, Chapman 72, Sanderson 77)
Northern Ireland 0
att: 3,944; at Gillingham F.C.
England opened up their 2009 UEFA Women's Championships qualifying group with a convincing victory over a dogged Northern Ireland side which held out until early in the second half.
Hope Powell opted to make five changes from the side which lost 1-0 to Holland in the last outing, with Steph Houghton and Lianne Sanderson starting competitive matches for the first time.
England had their first opportunity within the opening 90 seconds, a 25-yard free kick from which Fara Williams' effort sailed narrowly over. The same player saw a shot deflected wide after a driving run had carried her to within shooting range whilst a Kelly Smith free kick landed on the roof of the net.
England continued to dominate possession and territory but the final ball was letting them down. Kelly Smith shot straight at Emma Higgins from long range as Northern Ireland continued to stand firm.
Higgins was called into serious action for the first time when she superbly saved a Williams header down to her right as she met a pinpoint Katie Chapman cross, and Alex Scott fired the rebound into the side netting.
Sue Smith was unlucky to see a 20-yard volley soar inches over the bar after a Steph Houghton cross had not been cleared, and Lianne Sanderson headed a good chance over the bar from close range after Scott had challenged Higgins.
Williams shot over after exchanging passes with Kelly Smith and Kellie Leyland cleared off the line from Sanderson after good work from Kelly Smith once again down the right. Williams shot wide in injury time as a largely disappointing first half came to a close.
England introduced Karen Carney as a half time substitute and she was involved in creating their first chance of the second half. Carney's far post was met by Unitt whose volley was blocked by Higgins, Sanderson's effort was charged down and Kelly Smith sliced the loose ball wide.
Carney's pace and direct running was making a huge difference and another of her crosses led to the opening goal as Sue Smith headed back across goal and Kelly Smith was on hand to turn the loose ball into the back of the net.
Scott's 25-yard drive was turned around the post by Higgins and a looping volley from Kelly Smith was held as England at last began to play with more freedom. Two goalmouth scrambles almost led to a second goal; one ended with Kelly Bailie hacking the ball clear from around a yard out.
Carney curled a shot just past the outside of the far post from the edge of the area which the oncoming Kelly Smith could not quite divert home. However the pressure told as England were two ahead. Sue Smith slid the ball inside the full back for Sanderson whose cross deflected off the unfortunate Una Harkin and past a wrongfooted Higgins.
Six minutes later and England were three ahead. Sue Smith looked to have been brought down in the area by a tackle but Chapman drilled an excellent low left foot shot past Higgins from the edge of the box.
England were starting to run riot now and a special moment for Sanderson came as she was put through on goal by Williams and she rounded Higgins to score her first international goal.
Asante went very close with a half volley which was fractionally over after Scott had chested down Sue Smith's long cross and Williams shot wide on the turn from six yards out as England sought further goals late on, but 4-0 represented a satisfying result to start their campaign.
England: Rachel Brown, Steph Houghton (sub Karen Carney 45mins), Rachel Unitt, Katie Chapman, Anita Asante, Mary Phillip, Alex Scott, Fara Williams, Lianne Sanderson (sub Amanda Barr 78mins), Kelly Smith (sub Faye White 72mins), Sue Smith. Subs: Jo Potter, Carly Telford, Vicky Exley, Lindsay Johnson.
Northern Ireland: Emma Higgins, Kellie Leyland, Kelly Bailie, Una Harkin, Julie Nelson, Ashley Hutton, Kimberley Turner (sub Lynsey Patterson 90mins), Stacey Hall (sub Clare Carson 79mins), Sarah McFadden, Helen McKenna (sub Laura Gillespie 56mins), Rebecca Corish. Subs: Angela Platt, Aine McGovern, Laura Gillespie, Sara Booth, Danielle McDowell, Lynsey Patterson.
Photo - England's Mary Phillip is challenged by Northern Ireland striker Sarah McFadden
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