Two goals from Ashley Jackson and an eighth international goal from Harry Martin gave England a 3-0 win over Ireland in front of a packed house in the NOW: Pensions Nations Cup at Reading Hockey Club.
Jackson gave England the lead after 29 minutes, with Martin adding the second just two minutes later. The East Grinstead man netted his second with a penalty corner on the full time whistle. England looked comfortable throughout the game with Ireland seldom testing George Pinner in the home goal.
The opening exchanges were spent with both sides grappling for control of the midfield, meaning there were few chances early on. Ireland forced the first penalty corner but Stephen Dowd scuffed his drag flick and England cleared the danger. England’s first clear opening came after 21 minutes. Ollie Willars played a lovely long pass out of defence to Jackson on the left. Jackson broke forward and crossed to Simon Mantell. The Reading man shot on the turn but it went wide. Ireland’s corner defence stood up well to the hosts’ challenge as first Jackson and then Mark Gleghorne were unable to get the ball past the number one runner.
Jackson was beginning to dominate the game, pulling the strings from midfield as England took control of the middle of the field. With six minutes to go till the break Bobby Crutchley’s side took the lead and it was no surprise to see the No7 as the scorer. The penalty corner injection wasn’t the quickest but Jackson showed great presence of mind, rounding the runner before rifling a flick into the top corner giving David Fitzgerald no chance. Two minutes later it was 2-0. This time Jackson’s penalty corner was saved but Harry Martin reacted the quickest to guide home the rebound and double the advantage.
England went close in the first two minutes of the second half when Adam Dixon found Gleghorne but he could not smuggle the ball past Fitzgerald at the near post. Ireland were on the back foot and were indebted to some excellent defensive work from Jonathan Bell at the back and Captain John Jackson who did not stop working throughout.
Ali Brogdon flashed a shot wide of the far post from the edge of the D and Simon Mantell was unlucky to deflect a Barry Middleton cross wide with England searching for a third goal. Man of the Match Jackson almost provided it with ten minutes left. The East Grinstead star’s quick thinking caught Ireland napping and he drove into the D drawing a good save from Fitzgerald. On the full time whistle England forced a penalty corner and this time, Jackson was not to be denied. He found the top corner with a bullet flick to put a gloss on the scoreline and grab his 87th goal in international hockey.
It had been a controlled but not a vintage performance by England who would be happy to have got the win and a clean sheet.
Goalscorer Harry Martin told The Top of the D: “We were a bit rusty early on as it’s our first game as a team in a while but obviously we’re pleased to get the win. We knew they would physical and give us a good battle but it was a good opportunity for us to try some new tactics out. It was a good lesson for us.”
On England’s two goal hero, Martin said: “Ashley Jackson’s so important to us. He’s a world class player. Exciting to play with and exciting to watch. A pleasure to play with.”
Ireland’s captain John Jackson echoed the praise for England’s No7: “At critical moments England were clinical and stepped up. When you have a set-piece expert of the quality of Ashley Jackson it makes a big difference.”
“On the whole we played quite well but the result reflects the stages the two sides are at in their preparations. We’re looking to score 3+ goals each game, regardless of the score, so maybe we didn’t achieve what we set out to do, but there are positives for us, definitely. We’ve showed we can compete with a top four side. That should give our less experienced players great encouragement for the games in the Champions Challenge against teams around us. They are the teams we need to beat to get to where we want to be.”
England lifted the NOW: Pensions Nations Cup and will now travel to the Four Nations Tournament in Glasgow.