Commonwealth Games Men’s Pool B: England 1-2 New Zealand.

Simon Child’s splendid strike two minutes from time condemned England to a 2-1 defeat in a close fought game against New Zealand in Glasgow. With both sides unbeaten and favourites to progress to the semi-finals the match was all about securing the all-important top spot in the pool and avoiding a clash with world champions Australia.

Commonwealth Games Glasgow 2014It had looked like the sides would settle for a point each after Adam Dixon’s wonderful strike had cancelled out Andy Hayward’s hotly-disputed penalty stroke goal but Child had other ideas.

The first half was a see-saw battle with both sides grappling for control of the midfield. England forced two penalty corners but Ashley Jackson was unable to repeat his heroics of the last game where he scored four times and was denied by two splendid saves from Devon Manchester in the Kiwis’ goal.

The Blacksticks imposed a very physical game on England during the opening 35 minutes but were unable to cause George Pinner any alarm as the half drew to a close.

After the break the Kiwis started to look more dangerous with Child the instigator of their best work in the final third. With 41 minutes on the clock they won a penalty corner but Captain Barry Middleton was on hand to pull off an excellent goal line clearance to deny Hayward.

With 19 minutes left to play the game swung towards Colin Batch’s side in controversial fashion. Blair Hilton went down in the D as he tried to get on the end of a hard-hit cross from the right. New Zealand referred and after much deliberation it was adjudged that Michael Hoare had pushed Hilton and a penalty stroke was awarded. Hayward, who will play his club hockey for Hampstead and Westminster in England next season slotted the chance away.

Mark Gleghorne had a golden opportunity to level things up, racing clear from half way with just Manchester to beat but the goalkeeper pulled off a splendid save to preserve the lead.

With 11 minutes remaining, England equalised. Phil Roper showed superb skills down the baseline and cut the ball back to Dixon who hit it perfectly on the bounce to rifle it past the goalkeeper for a lovely goal.

Roper then went close himself but his diving deflection flashed just wide of the post. With two minutes left on the clock, the game was settled. Pinner got a glove to another penalty corner effort from Hayward but almost before anyone could blink Child had drilled the rebound into the turf and back up into the net with an impeccable reverse stick volley. The Blacksticks’ forward, who wowed fans with his goal scoring feats at the World Cup had risen to the occasion again and the points belonged to his team, ensuring they top the pool with just their game against Malaysia to come.

Bobby Crutchley, the England coach could not hide his disappointment saying:

“It’s quite frustrating I thought we played well for long periods, probably didn’t penetrate enough and these things fall on very small things and I thought we probably didn’t get the run of the green in the end. But if we can be better, then we know that doesn’t affect us and that’s what we will be working on next time. We know in the tournament there is still a lot to play for, it’s one game and we need to make sure we play our best hockey come the back end of the tournament and that’s what we will be looking to do.”

England’s final pool game is against Canada on Thursday morning when they will hope to secure a semi-final berth with Australia the likely opponents.

Photo courtesy of Ady Kerry.

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