EuroHockey: England 2 Ireland 1
PUBLISHED: 17:16 22 August 2019 | UPDATED: 17:16 22 August 2019
England's men dug deep to earn an important win over Ireland in the EuroHockey Championships in Belgium.
Goals in the first quarter from Zach Wallace and Phil Roper secured victory, as Michael Robson's effort for Ireland proved ultimately to only be a consolation.
It was a physical, gritty game but two moments of English quality were decisive, with Ashley Jackson playing a significant part in both goals.
Danny Kerry's team also had to show their defensive side, holding firm in the final quarter as Ireland pushed for an equaliser.
Having finished third in their initial pool and missing out on a semi final, England are in Pool C along with Scotland, Wales and today's opponents.
This win means that a positive result against Scotland on Saturday will ensure Kerry's men remain in the top flight of the next EuroHockey Championships in two years' time.
Head coach Kerry said: "I'm pleased for the lads who have stuck to the processes and played well in a high pressure game. I felt they controlled the game with good skill and understanding and I hope they are proud of how they handled themselves."
Midfielder David Ames added: "The last few days have been quite frustrating but we wanted to put that to bed and focus on getting two wins from the last two games. I thought we played really well today and obviously we're delighted to get the win against a really good Ireland side.
"We had to regroup and think how we go about this - do we want to sulk and put in poor performances or do we want to be proud of ourselves and play good hockey?
"I think we did the latter largely as Ireland, especially at the end, put us under the kosh and we dealt with it really well. Now we have to go into Saturday against Scotland which will be another really big derby, look forward to that and try to get another win.
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"Overall I think we're in a relatively good place. A couple of results didn't go our way - if we score a couple more goals, a couple of corners we thought we could have scored. It's such fine margins at this level - another day we would have taken them and be into a semi-final against The Netherlands or whoever.
"We can't really dwell on what's going on, we've just got to look forward. We've got a massive couple of months with an Olympic qualifier coming up. We've got to find out who we're playing, we're at home so we're now using these next two games to make sure we put ourselves in good stead for that."
Roper had the game's first effort of note, firing in a cracking strike, only to see it blocked by brave Irish defending.
Then with 12 minutes on the clock, England scored an excellent goal. Jackson went on an incisive run down the right, finding Sam Ward in the circle. Ward looked up and decisively picked out Wallace closing in to make it 1-0.
And just moments later it was 2-0, Ireland initially defending the penalty corner, only for Jackson to pick out Roper for a super finish across his body.
Into the second corner and Ireland were beginning to get a foothold, and Robson halved the deficit when he found space and fired home from a couple of metres inside the D.
The contest was becoming slightly feisty with plenty to play for, but there were no further goals before the break.
Late in the third quarter, an absolutely sensational pass from Jackson created space for Chris Griffiths to shoot on the reverse just inside the D, but the Irish 'keeper was able to palm it away.
The final quarter continued to be physical, and although down to ten men Ireland fashioned a corner in the last two minutes, only to be well denied by Henry Weir's brave running.
That proved to be the final action, and England had battled to a very valuable victory. They now face Scotland at 12:30pm UK time on Saturday and a positive result will ensure they play in the next EuroHockey Championships.
England: Pinner, Creed, Weir, Dixon (c), Ames, Sloan, Gall, Calnan, Roper, Jackson, Ward. Subs: Willars, Waller, Martin, Griffiths, Sorsby, Wallace. Unused: Gibson.