Monday, August 15, 2022

Commonwealth Games Hockey: England women keep India at bay to reach semi-finals

Birmingham — England women bagged a semi-final berth in front of watching royalty as the 2022 squad became the first to win their opening three matches at a Commonwealth Games. A 3-1 victory was largely achieved beneath Old Joe, the university clock tower, with a defensive display in the first-half and goals to finish off the Indian charge in the second. England are ticking into gear in Birmingham.

Goals from Giselle Ansley, Tess Howard and Anna Toman settled this one, with India snatching a goal with the last passage of play as England conceded their first of the tournament.

Howard’s goal was the crucial turning point in stifling a threatening India. And Howard knew it as the teak-tough East Grinstead forward latched on to a whipped forehand from the right and found the perfect deflected connection high into the net. 

She admitted: “As soon as Sophie got the ball, I knew it would be a cross and  I would have to dive there and it went into the top. It was great.”

Howard knew too that the first-half save from Maddie Hinch, where she spun and hooked her stick around a ball inching itself towards the goal line, was also a turning point.

“We went into deep defence and Maddie gave us a bit of a boost with an incredible save and we said to ourselves to keep putting the pressure on,” Howard said afterwards. “It’s always difficult when you go 1-0 up at half-time and then it’s how to find the next gear and make sure they don’t come back at us in the final minutes.”

Ansley had thundered England’s opener with their third corner of the match, in the third minute, with a deflection down the middle. A second early in hockey usually paves the way for a win. England were testing the Indian defence in the opening quarter, too. Slapped hits or aerials from Ansley, interspersed with using width on both flanks, but India were also pressing high.

India did manage their level best to get an equaliser before the first hooter. But Hinch, on the turn and dive, managed to smother her stick around a shot bound for goal, and after video review, it was a clear save.

With six seconds left, Hinch stuck out an authoritative right boot before her defence was put under the cosh in a second quarter where India had constant ball inside the England 23m. 

Most of the action now was taking place beneath Old Joe as England pressed. With Hamilton sitting wide on the right, she strode towards the D and hit a fizzing slap into the path of the diving Howard. Her deflection was precise and high into the roof of the note. Old Joe should have chimed for that one.

India had the majority circle penetrations (25 to England’s 15) as the match deepened. The Eves were buoyant at the start of the fourth but victory was sealed eight minutes from time when Toman, setting herself up from low down, punched into the corner.

With six seconds left, India were finally rewarded for their endeavours with a deflected slider past Hinch, their first PC effort from nine.

“We’ve worked really hard to put ourselves in this top position so we cannot afford to just take our foot off the gas because we know we’ve got a semi-final spot,” said Hinch.  

“We need to keep the momentum going, because my goodness once we find ourselves in the semis we’re going to have to play at a better level than we did today.”

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