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France under-19 condemned England under-19 to their first defeat of the season, despite the heroics of goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer, who made a string of fines saves to frustrate the visitors, but could do nothing about three stunning goals which handed France victory at Harrogate.
It all looked so optimistic for Mo Marley's side when Remi Allen put her team ahead with a fine lob but Eugenie Le Sommer, Aurelie Kaci and Laura Agard netted sublimely to break English hearts.
England began well and won an early corner after a slick move on the right concluded with Jess Clarke bursting down the flank before being thwarted. England had a good shout for a penalty turned down when Clarke connected with a bicycle kick which appeared to strike the hand of Agard. English hands went up in appeal but the referee was not interested, waving away their pleas.
Play then switched to the other end as Spencer dashed from her goal to clear but could only head as far as Le Sommer whose volley went well wide. Le Sommer went even closer seconds later, cutting in from the left flank before unleashing a powerful drive which Spencer did extremely well to tip over the bar.
Spencer made an even better save from Le Sommer as the French continued to threaten. After France attacked with vigour down the right, a low cross fell invitingly to the tricky winger who connected sweetly only to see the Arsenal stopper make a supreme save from close range.
But it was England who took the lead on 18 minutes. Latching on to a long pass, Remi Allen sprinted clear before executing a wonderfully controlled lob over French 'keeper Meline Gerard.
However England's lead lasted just a minute as Le Sommer darted in from the left before firing a shot into the bottom corner.
Allen went close to her second goal midway through the half after good work by Ellen White but Gerard was alert to the danger this time, rushing off her line to save bravely. The end-to-end theme continued with Le Sommer spurning a good chance, heading wide from a right wing cross after escaping the attentions of Jayne Eadie.
France went close to taking the lead for the first time as the interval loomed, when Renard rose highest to head a corner towards goal which England hacked clear.
England had a fine chance to begin the second half in perfect style but White, shunning Allen to her left when she might have passed, dragged her shot wide. The increasingly influential White went closer minutes later, when she glanced Sophie Walton's cross just wide.
France replied with a chance of their own on the hour with Sarah Chorfa lifting a header just over the bar. Spencer made yet another fine stop to deny Le Sommer on 68 minutes after the French striker had found herself unmarked at the far post. But there was nothing Spencer could do to prevent England falling behind a minute later. Le Sommer picked out substitute Kaci who kept her cool to lift the ball over the advancing 'keeper.
England's task looked impossible with eight minutes remaining. The hosts cleared Gwenaelle Butel's corner only as far as the taker, who rolled a low cross to Agard who drilled home a firm strike from the edge of the box. (www.TheFA.com)
England under-19: Rebecca Spencer, Jayne Eadie (sub Chelsea Weston 62mins), Georgie Giddings, Sophie Walton (sub Faye McCoy 85mins), Gilly Flaherty, Sophie Bradley, Jessica Clarke, Lizzie Edwards (sub Brooke Chaplen 62mins), Ellen White, Remi Allen (sub Michelle Hinnigan 90mins), Claire Rafferty (sub Toni Duggan 58mins). Subs not used: Helen Alderson, Gemma Bonner.
Photo - Claire Rafferty in possession for England (www.kipax.com)
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