Beth Mead scored a second-half hat-trick in 14 minutes as England eventually saw off resilient Northern Ireland in a World Cup qualifier on their return to Wembley for the first time in two years.
Mead broke the deadlock in the second half just seconds after coming on as substitute – hooking a loose ball into the net in acrobatic fashion – and went on to score twice more as England maintained their good start under new manager Sarina Wiegman.
Another substitute, Bethany England, grabbed the fourth for England as they ruthlessly saw off a well-organised Northern Ireland side in the second half.
The visitors, ranked 40 places below England, had thrown their bodies on the line to deny shot after shot in the first half, frustrating the wasteful home side.
But Mead’s introduction, alongside striker England’s, provided the clinical touch required in front of goal as the Lionesses eventually played to script in front of 23,225 fans.
It was a third consecutive victory for Wiegman, who took over as England manger in September, and means they top their qualifying group.
Northern Ireland have won two of their three group games and remain in third place behind Austria.
Mead’s stunning cameo maintains England’s 100% record
England have looked a potent attacking force under Wiegman, having scored 22 goals and not conceded any since she took over.
But they were hugely wasteful in the first half – just as they were in their opening group game against North Macedonia – and needed the spark Mead brought to the game to break down feisty Northern Ireland.
Leah Williamson, who again led the side, could have had a hat-trick of her own in the first half – and she cut a frustrated figure as visiting keeper Jacqueline Burns denied her on numerous occasions.
The majority of England’s success came down the flanks with Lauren Hemp a constant menace on the left, cutting inside and driving to the byline.
She finished with two assists to her name, while Nikita Parris – who was later replaced by Chelsea striker England – also presented Ellen White with countless opportunities to close the gap on all-time leading Lionesses goalscorer Kelly Smith.
Hemp rattled the crossbar in the first half before Alex Greenwood’s stunning 25-yard hit bounced off the woodwork – but as soon as Mead scored England’s first, the game changed.
Other than their initially wasteful finishing, England will go into Tuesday’s game against Latvia full of confidence after another display that strengthened their development before this summer’s home European Championships.
More lessons for gritty Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland boss Kenny Shiels believed before the game that his side had a chance to defy the odds, saying it was “11 versus 11” at Wembley.
But for the most part it felt like England had an extra player, with Northern Ireland constantly pinned into their own area and having to block countless shots from all angles.
It was a typical Northern Ireland performance though – gritty and determined – but ultimately the gulf in quality proved too much.
There was also a huge opportunity for Northern Ireland to take the lead early in the second half when Lauren Wade was set on her way down the left by Rachel Furness.
Wade rolled it across the box dangerously and Williamson got the slightest touch on it and that took it away from Caragh Hamilton, who was sliding in desperately at the back post.
Had that gone in, it would have caused a real stir at Wembley but despite the defeat, it was an evening of lessons for Shiels’ side, who continue their preparations for a historic first major tournament in the summer.
Tuesday’s game against Austria is crucial – if they can get a result at home it will put them in a strong position to fight for second place in the group.
- 2DalySubstituted forMeadat 64′minutes
- 6GreenwoodSubstituted forStaniforthat 80′minutes
- 3StokesSubstituted forWalshat 45′minutes
- 8KirbySubstituted forWubben-Moyat 80′minutes
- 7ParrisSubstituted forEnglandat 63′minutes
N Ireland Wom
- 13BurrowsBooked at 60minsSubstituted forWatlingat 73′minutes
- 15HamiltonSubstituted forMcGuinnessat 64′minutes
- 10FurnessSubstituted forMcDanielat 74′minutes
- 14WadeSubstituted forBeattieat 81′minutes
- 8CallaghanSubstituted forWilsonat 81′minutes
- Ivana Martincic
Match ends, England 4, Northern Ireland Women 0.
Second Half ends, England 4, Northern Ireland Women 0.
Offside, England. Ellen White tries a through ball, but Lotte Wubben-Moy is caught offside.
Attempt missed. Bethany England (England) right footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Lauren Hemp.
Attempt blocked. Bethany England (England) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Ellen White.
Attempt missed. Ellen White (England) right footed shot from the right side of the box misses to the left.
Attempt missed. Ellen White (England) right footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Lauren Hemp with a cross.
Substitution, Northern Ireland Women. Emily Wilson replaces Marissa Callaghan.
Substitution, Northern Ireland Women. Kerry Beattie replaces Lauren Wade.
Substitution, England. Lotte Wubben-Moy replaces Fran Kirby.
Substitution, England. Lucy Staniforth replaces Alex Greenwood.
Attempt missed. Fran Kirby (England) right footed shot from the centre of the box is too high.
Attempt saved. Lauren Hemp (England) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Fran Kirby.
Goal! England 4, Northern Ireland Women 0. Beth Mead (England) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal.
Goal! England 3, Northern Ireland Women 0. Beth Mead (England) right footed shot from the right side of the six yard box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Lauren Hemp with a cross.
Substitution, Northern Ireland Women. Louise McDaniel replaces Rachel Furness.
Substitution, Northern Ireland Women. Ciara Watling replaces Kelsie Burrows.
Goal! England 2, Northern Ireland Women 0. Bethany England (England) right footed shot from very close range to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Lauren Hemp with a cross.
Ellen White (England) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Chloe McCarron (Northern Ireland Women).