England sneaked through to the semi finals of the Eurohockey Championships with a hard fought 2-2 draw against Ireland. Two goals each for Tom Carson and Shane O’Donoghue, meant that the sides played out the draw England needed to progress, whilst Ireland will go into the relegation play offs.
It was a classic game of two halves with England controlling the opening period and marching into a two goal lead before the Green Machine hauled their way back to level terms in the second half and could easily have grabbed the win.
Both sides had early chances: Conor Harte saw his penalty corner deflected wide by Dan Fox who had made good ground from the goalline to get his stick on the ball, whilst Davey Harte had to be alert to keep out a Barry Middleton cross, diverted goalwards by his own player.
With seven minutes gone in the match, Bobby Crutchley’s side took the lead. David Condon drove across the D from left to right and shot at goal. The East Grinstead man didn’t get the cleanest of contacts but Carson swept the bouncing ball past Harte and into the net.
Ireland almost equalised immediately, Kirk Shimmins showed good determination to ride a tackle outside the D and fizzed a reverse stick shot in which George Pinner saved brilliantly, diving to his right.
England were sitting deep and aiming to hit Ireland on the break, however this invited the Irish to attack, Kyle Good stung Pinner’s pads from a tight angle with one of their better chances.
England looked threatening on the counter with Nick Catlin, Barry Middleton and Alastair Brogdon all causing the Irish defence problems. After a neat interchange on the right hand side, England almost made it 2-0. Condon picked up the ball brilliantly inside the D, near the baseline and spun and shot in one movement. Not for the first time this tournament, Harte was down like a flash and turned the ball away with another fine save.
On 19 minutes, Carson added his second. Middleton did well to keep the ball in near the baseline on the right, manufacturing an awkward cross which evaded everyone except Carson, who had peeled away to the far post and showed great technique to sweep home his second of the match and his fourth of the competition.
England threatened as the half wore on but were unable to fashion any more clear cut chances, but they would have gone in at half time relatively happy with the situation.
England resumed the second half in the ascendancy with Catlin and Simon Mantell both being kept out by Harte, however it wasn’t long before Andrew Meredith’s team seized the initiative. Conor Harte’s penalty corner was kept out by a combination of Pinner and Ollie Willars on the goalline, but umpire John Wright deemed that it was done so illegally and awarded a penalty stroke, to the obvious dismay of the England goalkeeper. O’Donoghue stepped up and kept his calm, sending Pinner right and firing the ball left to make it 2-1.
Ben Arnold, recovered from a head injury sustained against Poland almost restored the two goal cushion immediately. The Beeston man drove across the D from right to left and beat Harte with a low shot that went a whisker wide of the post.
On 57 minutes, Ireland had their equaliser. The ball was cut back from the baseline and with some England players stopping, thinking it had gone out of play, Wright spotted a stick tackle as the ball was about to be fired at goal, and gave another stroke. O’Donoghue did the honours again, this time opting for the other corner as Pinner went the wrong way again.
Ireland sensed the shift in momentum and stepped up their efforts to pick up the win they needed to progress. Iain Lewers, formerly an Ireland international was defending superbly alongside Holcombe’s Dan Fox who looked assured whilst others were losing their heads. Barry Middleton, nursing a suspected broken finger continued to try and spur his team forwards but Ireland had their tails up and were fighting hard for the all important third goal.
Conor Harte sent in a cross that Eugene Magee touched goalwards but Pinner saved well. The Beeston goalkeeper had to be at his best with time running out as Peter Caruth got all the way round the baseline on the left, only to be met by the giant goalkeeper who smothered the chance well.
England were throwing bodies into tackles and hitting the ball long in an attempt to protect the point they needed to make the semi finals. It wasn’t pretty but they crept over the line, just about.
England will line up in the semi finals against either Germany, Spain or Belgium, a daunting task regardless of who it ends up being.
Ireland will play in the relegation play offs but will surely have too much quality to miss out on participation in this competition next time out.