[img_assist|nid=8618|title=Double strike|desc=Tom Carson (right) and Kirk Shimmins – photo: hockeyimages.co.uk|link=node|align=right|width=220|height=164]A 2-2 was enough for England’s men to join their women in the semi-finals of the European Hockey Championships in Belgium.
Tom Carson was on the end of two Barry Middleton crosses from the right in the seventh and 19th minutes to set Ireland a mountain to climb, given that they needed to win the game to make the final four.
It was the Irish who held territorial advantage for most of that first half. But England were happy to defend in numbers then use aerial balls from Iain Lewers and Richard Smith to spread out the play and launch rapid counter attacks.
The pattern continued into the second period with Ireland still struggling to create any sort of clear chances despite an abundance of posession. Their goals came from two strokes converted by Shane O’Donoghue (51mins, 57mins), both awarded foloowing messy circle penetrations.
One stroke was for a mis-tackle in the act of shooting and one – we think – for a back-stick. Had England not squandered their video referral in the fourth minute, they would probably have appealed both. But umpire John Wright was not for the turning.
An exciting finish ensued with Pinner making a couple of sharp saves.
Ireland have come close in yet another tournament and, with hindsight, it was their failure to make more of the Poland game (which they won 4-2) that cost them a semi-final place.
England coach Bobby Crutchley said: “The game was always going to be tight. We are an inexperienced team playing against a very good Irish side.
“What changed in the second half was that we were not good enough on the ball. We had chances and should have passed it better. I’m delighted we got the result we needed to progress.
“I’m really proud the players have stuck at it and got that result.
“When you have a new team you have to make yourselves difficult to beat.”