England Women sealed their place in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games semi-finals on Monday after beating Malaysia 3-0 in an eventful final pool match.
England contrived to miss three penalty strokes, two saved by Malaysia’s heroine goalkeeper, Farah Yahya in a match which was drawn out due to various injury and video referral stoppages plus a combination of 18 penalty corners.
This all happened with captain, Alex Danson sitting on the bench as a precaution following an ankle injury. Surbiton’s Hollie Pearne-Webb took over the captaincy and could not have imagined the scenarios that would unfold under her watch.
A clue of what was to come was given when England used their video referral after just 23 seconds to win their first penalty corner of the match. Surbiton’s Giselle Ansley just failed to connect with Susannah Townsend, after the corner was retaken following the first of three Malaysian defender breaks from the goal-line before the injection in the match.
England dominated possession early in the match, passing the ball around the pitch and were rewarded in the seventh minute when Ellie Watton deflected a cross from the right from Laura Unsworth into the Malaysian goal.
After falling behind, Malaysia were able to attack more, forcing two first quarter penalty corners, with an excellent opportunity to equalise in the 26th minute, Nuramirah Zulkifli beating Ansley to set up a one on one situation against England goalkeeper, Maddie Hinch, only to blaze the ball over the bar.
The drama continued in the second quarter, England being awarded the first of their three penalty strokes after the Malaysian captain, Siti Ruhani stopped a goal bound penalty corner shot with her foot in the 18th minute. Up stepped Ansley, only to slot the ball narrowly past the right post.
Three minutes before half time, England had a second opportunity and this time it was Grace Balsdon, another penalty corner specialist on the penalty spot. Yahya made an excellent glove save pushing the ball pat the right post, but was injured and needed treatment as a result. This led to her temporary replacement by Huzaimah Aziz as Yahma had to leave the field as she had received treatment. She returned with 55.6 seconds remaining in the half, Malaysia still only trailing 1-0 at half time.
Malaysia had still had time to force a penalty corner awarded due to Ansley fouling Zulkifli in the 23, Sophie Bray defending the ball on the goal-line before a second penalty corner was forced, Malaysia blazing the ball high and wide of the goal.
Surbiton’s Hannah Martin doubled England’s lead five minutes into the third quarter, Ellie Rayer crossing from the right for Martin to poke the ball home. England forced several penalty corners towards the end of the quarter, but lost their video referral asking for another.
Going into the final quarter with a 2-0 lead, England came close to breaking their penalty corner conversion duck, Pearne-Webb’s shot from their eleventh award ruled out as the ball touched an England foot on the way to goal in the 52nd minute.
A minute later, Bray jostled herself into position to score England’s third goal from short range to end any Malaysian hopes of a comeback.
The final drama came right at the end of the match when England’s third penalty stroke was awarded following ball touching foot in the middle of their twelfth penalty corner with the ball also blocked on the line.
Sadly it was not third time luck as Ellie Watton shot towards the centre of the goal allowing Yahya to make a simple save and celebrate wildly supported and encouraged by many spectators.
England are likely to finish top of the pool, India needing to beat South Africa by five goals to finish top on goal difference with both teams on nine points. South Africa can qualify with a victory. Wales are now out of the running following their 2-0 defeat by South Africa.
Ansley, Sarah Haycroft, Martin and Pearne-Webb were all in the England starting lineup with Emily Defroand and Jo Hunter both coming on as seventh minute substitutes.
The Daily Schedule with links to information about individual matches can be found at the Commonwealth Games website
The England Hockey match report can be found here