A scrappy match was enlivened in a pulsating ending as England women narrowly held on to beat Ireland 2-1 in their EuroHockey Championship opener on Sunday.
A penalty corner rebound goal by Suzy Petty and an unstoppable drag flick from Giselle Ansley gave England a first-half ascendancy before Beth Barr’s third quarter strike ensured a grandstand finish, which ultimately left Mark Hager’s side in sight of the semi-finals.
“They played with their heart on their sleeve and we had to match that," said Ansley. "Tournament hockey is about winning ugly if you have to.”
The card-happy umpires made sure of that, six in all - greens and yellows apiece - leaving little time for attractive hockey and England going aerial.
Instead, England were indebted to Susannah Townsend’s ability to scrap and win free hits in midfield, Hannah Martin’s running and Maddie Hinch’s late saves to deny Ireland a point.
Martin had a hand in winning both of England penalty corner goals. Petty scored from close range with the first, before Ansley bent low and sent a pinpoint flick high into the net past Ayeisha McFerran.
However Martin’s yellow card for indiscipline in the third quarter saw Ireland rally, as Chloe Watkins disguised her drag flick corner, leaving Barr to hit a tight shot past Hinch’s outstretched left boot.
The final quarter ushered in a flurry of frantic Irish attacks, while Sarah Evans was handed a yellow card for an illegal push on Anna O’Flanagan.
Ireland’s resulting corner went inches wide of Hinch’s post, before being forced into two smart saves at the death.
Hager said: “I said to Sarah that we can’t body to body in the circle, particularly when cards are being handed out. We have to back off and be smart and make a cleaner tackle."
Meanwhile, world men's champions Belgium defeated England 2-0 in front of King Philippe.
Goals from Tom Boon and Alexander Hendrickx proved enough, but England matched the Belgians for large periods. England will now face Spain in their final Pool game tomorrow for a place in the semi-finals.