England Women’s manager Phil Neville has labelled Chelsea forward Fran Kirby as a ‘match-winner’ after scoring during their 1-1 draw with Australia.
Kirby’s goal midway through the first half at Craven Cottage on Tuesday did have the Lionesses on their way to earning their second victory over one of the world’s top-10 ranked nations in the space of three days, only for Clare Polkinghorne to level the tie late on with a header from Elise Kellond-Knight’s corner.
Three days ago, Kirby’s early goal earned England a 1-0 victory over Brazil in Nottingham.
Since taking charge of England for the first time in March, Lionesses boss Neville has utilised Kirby in three different positions. Although she is primarily used as an attacking midfielder, she started as the lone striker against the Matildas. She was also played as a central-midfielder during a World Cup qualifier against Wales in April.
Neville admitted after the draw how happy he was with her performance against Australia in a different role and that she has the quality to be used in a variety of positions.
“She was great”, admitted Neville. “I think it is the intelligence of Fran Kirby because she has got the ability too.
“She played as a number nine today because I thought that they would leave space in behind and because we were playing technical football, it was not a game where we were going to be playing long balls because they had two tall centre-backs, I wanted to wriggle around them.
“In the next game, she could play as a 10 or in the three in midfield. We are just going to use her in the best possible shape and I think she is enjoying her football, which is nice.”
On Monday, Kirby was named on FIFA’s 15-strong shortlist in contention to win the 2018 Ballon d’Or, as was England teammate Lucy Bronze.
Neville felt that Kirby’s recognition for the award is deserved and that she has the capabilities of helping her country to achieve success.
He said: “And she is a match winner, she scores goals and I like people that score goals because they are going to get us success and she is just gathering momentum at this time.
“It is brilliant that she has been named on the Ballon d’Or list. When we saw the list yesterday, the players were so proud of [Kirby and Bronze].
“[It is] well deserved after the season that Fran has had and we need another big season from her.”