Scotland fall to narrow Nations League England defeat but performance shows quality gap is closing

Scotland Women’s 2-1 defeat at a sold-out Stadium Of Light may have handed England a September double over their near neighbours - but the performance proved they’re beginning to fulfil their promise under Pedro Martinez Losa.
England's Rachel Daly (right) and Scotland's Erin Cuthbert battle for the ball.England's Rachel Daly (right) and Scotland's Erin Cuthbert battle for the ball.
England's Rachel Daly (right) and Scotland's Erin Cuthbert battle for the ball.

Since his appointment in 2021, the Spaniard has been insistent that Scotland can go toe to toe with the likes of England's Lionesses. However, an equality dispute between players and the Scottish FA, combined with the inability to qualify for this summer's World Cup, had left many wondering if the era of Martinez Losa was nearing a premature end this time last year.

The night is always darkest before the dawn, though, and a six-game unbeaten run had ignited hopes that Scotland were finally gelling on the pitch ahead of Friday night’s UEFA Nations League clash in the week that, off the pitch, a resolution was found in their dispute over equal pay.

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A daunting clash against a Lionesses side that had reached their last two major tournament finals was pitched as an opportunity to prove Martinez Losa right in his feeling that they were “arriving at the point” where they could challenge the world’s top sides. And while the match against England proved a little too much for them - much like the men's match at Hampden earlier this month - thanks to strikes from Lucy Bronze and Lauren Hemp, his Scotland side can head into Tuesday's second Nations League game with Belgium at Hampden buoyed by another encouraging display despite the scoreline.

While England were dominant in the opening 15 minutes, Scotland soon found their feet and when Caroline Weir somehow found herself in the England box, her drive was destined for the net, only for the left hand of Mary Earps to deny. Scotland were almost made to pay shortly afterwards when Rachel Daly nodded home a corner. Much to the dissatisfaction of the jubilant home crowd, Italian referee Maria Sole Caputi ruled it out for offside.

Kirsty Hanson then almost completely silenced Wearside when she managed to wriggle free from the England defence and ping a ball across the six yard box which missed the sliding Martha Thomas by all of an inch.

Frustratingly, two goals in six minutes saw the Lionesses gain control of the game though when Bronze somehow found room in the box and, despite suspicions of offside, was able to nod home a pinpoint Katie Zelem cross before Hemp’s diving header doubled the lead on the 45th-minute mark. With a sense of déjà vu coming over the away end though, livewire Hanson handed her side real hope when she tapped home with the last kick off the half.

In the second period of a few chances, Hanson threatened once more as she cannoned an angled shot off the underside of the bar to leave the packed Scotland away end with their heads in their hands.

Ultimately though, that deserved second goal would just not arrive for Scotland, try as they might. However, if Martinez Losa’s aim on the day of his appointment in 2021 was to prove the Scottish women’s national team had what it takes to push some of the world’s best sides to their limits, we can trust he left Sunderland a pretty happy man.