Jason Lee’s new-look England side gave the home crowd exactly what they came for with a convincing 4-1 win over South Africa here in London. Goals from Susie Gilbert, Sophie Bray, Alex Danson and Giselle Ansley were too much for the visitors who hit back with a solitary penalty corner strike from Pietie Coetzee.
England came out of the blocks quickly and almost opened the scoring through Susannah Townsend. Reading’s new signing showed good strength to hold off the defender in the D and hit a snapshot which went just wide.
South Africa hit back with a flurry of penalty corners. First, Coetzee forced a fine save from Maddie Hinch, low to her right with a fierce drag flick. Hinch did well to smother two follow up attempts from Marsha Cox, too. The next corner hit the on-rushing Kate Walsh, forcing a re-award, which Hinch was equal to, frustrating Coetzee again with another fantastic save.
At the other end Sanani Mangisa kept out a Walsh penalty corner as both sides searched for the all-important first goal. The goal came England’s way, a cross from the right saw both Hannah MacLeod and Alex Danson sliding in for the deflection. MacLeod made the touch but was denied by Mangisa, Gilbert followed up and forced the rebound home to send the crowd wild.
England made it 2-0 after good approach work on the baseline from Lily Owsley, cutting the ball back to Sophie Bray who dinked it home.
South Africa pulled one back on the stroke of half time. The penalty corner was not injected to the right place, but Coetzee still got a shot off which clipped Hinch’s pads on the way into the net.
England carried on threatening the South Africa goal and Mangisa had to be alert to smother from Danson in the early going. There was nothing the goalkeeper could do in the 39th minute as Danson seized on a loose ball in the D to fire the ball into the bottom corner for 3-1.
South Africa tried to hit back, but found Hinch, who had an excellent game in goal, in no mood to concede again, this time saving with her feet from Tarryn Bright.
Then came one of the great “almost” moments of the match. Lily Owsley, the 18-year-old on her debut, picked up the ball on the right in her own half. Leaving her marker for dead she burst forward at great pace right through the heart of the South Africa defence, the crowd held their breath, anticipating a Michael Owen-esque goal but Mangisa was chief party-pooper as she made an excellent smothering save.
Mangisa was at it again moments later, getting a strong glove to a Bray reverse stick shot and then smothering on the baseline to keep out Alex Danson.
South Africa had another penalty corner chance, but for the umpteenth time, Hinch made a splendid save, diving to her right to get a hand on Coetzee’s high drag flick.
The final word was England’s as in the 68th minute Ansley put a gloss on the score, finding the bottom corner with a drag flick to make it 4-1.
Afterwards, England coach Jason Lee said: “I’m very happy with the scoreline. I think it flatters us a bit, but the quality of our play deserved a win. At 2-1 the next goal was crucial and once we scored it, we were able to sit back and pick them off as they chased the game.” he added: ” I’m really pleased that everyone contributed, experienced and new players to what was a good performance.”
South Africa will go into their game with Spain tomorrow, knowing a win is crucial to get their campaign back on track. England are well set for a clash of the titans with one of their oldest sporting foes, Australia.