Phil Neville has praised Ellen White after the England No 9 came to the Lionesses’ rescue in New Jersey against Japan in the SheBelieves Cup. England, and Neville, needed a result after the opening defeat against USA and White, as she often does, provided the goal they needed in a 1-0 win.

After the game the forward admitted that she had “no idea” how many international goals she has scored, guessing it was 30, leading Neville to say: “It is unusual for an out-and-out No 9 [to not keep tally],” said Neville of the 30-year-old White who, for the record, has 36 international goals, 10 behind the record goalscorer Kelly Smith and is fifth overall in England’s goalscoring charts. “She’s not bothered about herself,” Neville said.

“With the things that are happening in these girls’ lives it’s easy to probably think about yourself: ‘How can I survive in this team, how can I get Olympic selection?’ and Ellen White is just thinking about England winning – England winning first, Ellen White succeeding second. That’s what sets her apart from everybody else really. She’s a star.”

White helped to paper over the cracks of some mixed performances at the World Cup in France last summer, chipping in with six goals to earn her the bronze boot – finishing level with Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan but with fewer assists – and the striker’s absence was felt when she missed the start of the season through injury, during which England won just one of four games.

Neville, perhaps misinterpreting the clamour for Beth England to be a more regular starter as a direct replacement for White, rather than playing alongside her, was bullish in his defence of the latter. “I actually think there has been a bit of disrespect towards Ellen in terms of her performance, in terms of her stature. Today showed what Ellen White is all about; one chance, one goal.”

Neville and White have both spoken of the change he made to her game in encouraging her to be more selfish. The rewards have been reaped. Now he is having to remind her of that way of playing. “Over the last six months she went away from being a jack-of-all-trades, just running around and doing it all for the team. We’ve worked really hard on her staying between the goalposts, being really selfish, having that – and I don’t like comparisons – Shearer, Michael Owen, Ruud van Nistelrooy type of ruthlessness.

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“We spoke to her after the USA game. She went back to just running around everywhere when actually we needed her between the posts, we needed her to be in between the two centre-backs and have that ruthless attitude. She just needs to save energy for when the ball comes in to her so she’s got the energy to score, she’s got the energy to play her game, and she was fantastic when she came on today.”

Up next for the Lionesses is a slick and well-organised Spain team who came close to causing the upset of the World Cup in a narrow defeat against USA, the eventual champions, in June. On Sunday Spain again troubled the SheBelieves Cup hosts but in the end a thundering Julie Ertz header in the 87th-minute was the difference. Six teams separate sixth-placed England and Spain in the Fifa world rankings, but on recent form that gap will likely look much tighter in Dallas for their final game of the SheBelieves Cup.

Neville expects a win and six points would be a successful tournament tally. “I think it will do, it will feel like that [a success]. Six points from this tournament I think’s a really good barometer. When I first got the job four points was all we got [in 2018], then seven [in 2019]. Six points makes you competitive. The aim is to now build momentum. We’ve not games in April so it would be good. We’ve had too many camps where we’ve finished on a low and then we’ve had time to dwell and then the negativity builds up. We want to finish on a real high.”

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