In a picture perfect finish, England defeated New Zealand by 5-1 to stay unbeaten at the Hero Hockey World League Final in New Delhi. Earlier in the tournament, England defeated hosts India (2-0) and Olympic Champions Germany (2-1).
Ashley Jackson scored the only goal in a tight opening half, but England stepped up a gear in the final 35 minutes as the floodgates opened; Jackson added another to his tally, alongside Mark Gleghorne, Tom Carson and captain Barry Middleton to make it 5-1 and seal their place at the top of Pool A.
The result means that England will face the fourth place finishers from Pool B which will be decided after the rest of today’s matches; at the moment their opponents could be Australia, the Netherlands or Belgium.
The Hero Man of the Match award went to Holcombe’s Dan Fox and after the match he gave his thoughts on England’s performance and looking ahead to the crucial quarter-final battle: “It’s going really well so far and it’s great to finish top of the pool with three wins, but we know the big match is on Wednesday in the quarter finals. Every side in this competition is really strong, so I couldn’t pick out an opponent, but we’ll go into the game high on confidence and ready for the challenge.”
Adding his thoughts on England’s performances so far this tournament Fox added, “Our performances out here are down to the work we’ve been putting into our training over the last four months back home. We’ve been playing at a really high intensity for long periods to ensure that we can maintain the work rate across 70 minutes.”
New Zealand dominated play in the opening 15 minutes and created some good chances, but were unable to capitalise as England’s defence continued the strong form it has shown all tournament.
After a slightly nervous opening phase England found their feet and pulled the possession back in their favour. In the 30th minute East Grinstead’s Ashley Jackson scored his first of two drag-flicks, stepping in and firing the ball high past the left glove of a helpless Hamish McGregor in New Zealand’s goal to make it 1-0 at the break.
Another cagey opening spell ensued in the second half, but again England looked the more threatening on the attack. Jackson added a second to his tally in the 44th minute from another penalty corner; this time he pulled the ball low to McGregor’s right, wrong footing the New Zealand keeper to make it 2-0. Not to be left out on the action, club teammate Mark Gleghorne stepped up for England’s next penalty corner and in the same style to Jackson’s second his shot found the target and England were 3-0 up.
In the 55th minute George Pinner came off to allow Patrick Smith on to the field for his second cap in England’s goal. It was a tough start for the young keeper as New Zealand immediately won a penalty corner and after a scramble in front of goal, Hugo Inglis was credited with a goal to make it 3-1.
England didn’t panic and found the target twice more in the remaining 15 minutes. Jackson made a great run to find Tom Carson in the circle and a slick turn from Carson allowed him to create some space and fire home into an open goal after McGregor had already committed to saving from Jackson. Not content with a 4-1 victory England added a fifth in the final minute. Quick thinking from Reading’s Nick Catlin saw him disguise a pass into the circle to captain Barry Middleton who deflected the ball past a disgruntled McGregor to seal a 5-1 win and cement England’s place at the top of Pool A.
“We played really well in the first 15 minutes, but then England came out strong and we lost our way and didn’t stick to our game plan. England is a very disciplined and hard-working team, we had a couple of chances in the first half and we needed to finish those off,” said Black Sticks head coach Colin Batch after the match.
There’s a rest day tomorrow for the teams ahead of the all important quarter-finals on Wednesday. England’s opponents will be decided once the remaining Pool B fixtures have been completed today (Full Schedule/Results/Highlights Here).