‘It felt so natural’: Ella Toone excited by England link-up with Grace Clinton

<span>Ella Toone (left) and Grace Clinton (centre) celebrate after England’s 7-2 defeat of Austria in Marbella.</span><span>Photograph: Naomi Baker/The FA/Getty Images</span>
Ella Toone (left) and Grace Clinton (centre) celebrate after England’s 7-2 defeat of Austria in Marbella.Photograph: Naomi Baker/The FA/Getty Images

When Fran Kirby felt what England staff hope is just a bit of rotation in her previously injured knee in the warm-up ahead of Friday’s impressive 7-2 defeat of Austria, there would be no risks taken. Kirby, named in the starting XI, was replaced as a precaution with Ella Toone coming in.

This was not an unfamiliar switch, with Toone regularly coming off the bench in place of Kirby or starting in the No 10 role in her absence. But this was not the only change Sarina Wiegman made, the manager grasping the opportunity to rotate and experiment in some increasingly rare friendly fixtures. Grace Clinton was handed her debut, Hannah Hampton started in goal, Maya Le Tissier played at right-back and Lotte Wubben-Moy and Jess Park came off the bench to add to their low cap tallies.

Related: Alessia Russo and Mead at the double in Lionesses’ 7-2 mauling of Austria

What was impressive, though, was how seamless and coherent England’s play was despite the many changes and different personnel. There was no dip in quality or synergy.

“That’s what this camp is about,” said Toone. “It’s just about getting those new players in and creating connections with them on the pitch. It’s about getting them used to how we play, it’s about testing ourselves against different opposition.

“We know it’s two friendlies, but we want to treat them as competitive games. When you step out for England you want to win and that’s what we did. We’re delighted with that. Obviously, we’ll look at those two goals we conceded because we know what we’re like; we want to be the best, so we’re not happy with those. But we’re happy with the seven goals against a tough team that we’ve played against in tournaments before.”

Beth Mead added it was “positive” to see so many players slot in so easily. “This is a great camp to see new players on the pitch, new relationships, and we’ve got an abundance of talent coming through at the moment so it’s really nice to see those girls come on, put in performances and look really comfortable in the seniors,” she said.

Many of the players in the under-23s cohort starting to move into the senior side play with or against the senior Lionesses at club level, but even among those less familiar with playing together the connections came naturally. Toone joined her Manchester United teammate Clinton, who is spending her second season with the club on loan at Tottenham, in midfield for the first time.

“I absolutely loved it,” said Toone. “She’s a great player with a lot of talent and is very good on the ball. To link up with her – we’ve never done that before, we’ve never played together – it felt so natural. I knew where she was and she knew where I was, so I’m delighted for her that she made her debut and got her goal.”

Clinton’s performance and goal was the highlight of a match in which Alessia Russo and Mead scored twice each, the defender Jess Carter flicked in a sublime backheel, and Rachel Daly added a late rocket.

“I felt really, really comfortable,” said Clinton. “The girls supported me so much. It was nice playing with Tooney because I know her really well, and Georgia [Stanway] was really helpful behind.

“The No 8 position this season is a bit new to me. Sarina told me at the start of the week she was trying new things, so to be in there is different but nice.”