London 2012 Women’s Pool A: Great Britain 3-0 Belgium.

Goals from Ashleigh Ball, Laura Bartlett and Crista Cullen sent Great Britain to the top of their pool and continued their 100% run in the Olympic hockey competition.

The team was handed a boost when talismanic striker Alex Danson was passed fit, having picked up an injury in the dying minutes of the hosts’ win over Korea.

Indeed it was Danson who threatened the Belgian goal early on, turning smartly in the D and firing a reverse stick shot over the crossbar. The game settled in a pattern with Belgium hassling and harrying their opponents and Great Britain having the Lion’s share of the ball.

Alex Danson was still at the heart of the home side’s most promising moments: She latched onto Crista Cullen’s long pass and beautifully found Nicola White in the D. The Slough striker couldn’t quite take the ball in her stride and goalkeeper Aisling D’Hooghe did well to save and clear the danger.

Georgie Twigg’s influence was beginning to show in the match, too and the Clifton midfielder was doing her best to drive her team forward in search of the opening goal.

On 33 minutes, Great Britain got the breakthrough. Sarah Thomas’ shot from the top of the d was saved, but Chloe Rogers picked up the rebound, cut the ball back to Ashleigh Ball who slapped the ball into the bottom corner, giving the goalkeeper no chance.

After half-time, the pattern of the game did no alter a great deal. The visitors still seemed content to concentrate on stifling their opponents whilst Great Britain continued to probe and look for more goals.

On 40 minutes, they doubled their advantage. Hannah MacLeod did brilliantly to win the ball and slid a clever pass into Laura Bartlett. Bartlett turned sharply and sent a reverse stick shot under the goalkeeper to make it 2-0.

Belgium threatened sporadically, but found Beth Storry in confident mood, comfortably repelling the chances they managed to create, and covering a fierce shot from Anouk Raes, which fizzed wide of the post.

The crowd were urging their side on to try and notch a third, and the excellent Laura Bartlett did her best to oblige; her superb turn and cross narrowly avoiding her team mates in the middle.

Belgian threatened one last time when Emilie Sinia robbed the otherwise excellent Laura Unsworth, but once again Storry kept the effort out.

With two minutes to play, Ashleigh Ball won a penalty corner. Crista Cullen stepped up and sent a trademark drag flick into the goal for her second of the tournament.

It was an impressive, and above all, patient display from Great Britain. Belgium had obviously set up to try and deny their hosts chances, but showed very little ambition of their own. It could easily have been a frustrating night for GB, but in the end, their confidence in their ability to break their opponents down paid off. The will go into their next match with China with their tails up, expecting nothing less than a win.

It was nice to finish a game with no new injury worries, too!

About thetopofthed

Columnist for The Hockey Paper and the man behind The Top of the D. Writer, podcaster, goalkeeper and BBC Sport man. Used to work for Great Britain Hockey and have covered the sport at every major tournament.
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