Ireland 3 (Alan Sothern 2, Bruce McCandless) Malaysia 3 (Ahmad Tajudin 2, Hanfi Hafifihafiz)
Alan Sothern’s last minute goal earned an Ireland side made up of mainly possible rather than probable major tournament players a lively draw at Belfield in the first tie of their four-match series.
Played in front of a decent crowd, chances were few and far between, but the majority of those carved out were converted; Ireland, for example, made three of their four penalty corners count on the scoreboard.
Nonetheless, it was lively encounter from the off with Malaysia’s commitment to a fast and furious style providing a good night’s entertainment. Both sides displayed some flashes of inspiration with Alan Giles displaying some delightful touches while Joe Brennan’s audacious long-passes creating some excellent overload opportunities.
His first such effort – introduced on the quarter-hour from the bench – ripped 60-metres from right to left through the Malaysia defences, found its way to Ronan Gormley who neatly earned his side’s first corner.
With Brian Doherty and Alan Sothern in the dugout at the time, David Ames took the ensuing drag and while his effort was blocked it caused enough mayhem for Bruce McCandless to poke home the second rebound in the 21st minute.
Malaysia were back on terms within three minutes, working their way down the preferred left flank. Marhan jinked his way into the circle before driving a strong push on the 45 angle to the back post.
Amid the melee, Gormley appeared to get an unfortunate stick to the ball though the waiting Hanfi Hafifihafiz was also in the mix and took the credit for the equaliser.
Into the second half, Malaysia started to turn the screw in terms of possession and territory but Ireland kept them outside the 25 for the most part and, after a piece of Giles’ 3d magic, earned another corner.
Sothern nailed low and true in the 47th minute to regain the lead – punishing Malaysia’s second green card sin-binning.
But a player deficit cost Ireland dear in the closing stages as they looked a little jaded in the closing stages. First, the visitors profited from a player advantage when Doherty was binned for two minutes when Ahmad Tajudin provided the moment of the night.
Following a long corner with his back to goal, he turned on a sixpence, flipping the ball through two defenders in the process before sliding his reverse-stick under the ball and over Iain Walker for a delicate finish.
Then, with Ames sitting out the last three and a half minutes for a midfield foul, Tajudin took the lead for the first time in the 68th minute. It was a simpler task to finish this time, rolling home a two-on-one chance from Misron Azlan’s pass.
But Ireland garnered a last chance in the closing stages and Sothern zipped home his 17th international goal, via the goalkeeper’s pad, to earn a draw and stretch the men’s unbeaten to eight games.
Irish assistant coach Arul Anthoni was satisfied with a performance against a Malaysian side “at their peak”
“We have been trying some new defensive tactics and we were pleased with how this went against Malaysia tonight,” he said.
“Obviously, Malaysia have some fast and furious players and they are busy preparing for the Commonwealth Game and Asian Games later in the year, so they are at their peak.”
Ireland: Iain Walker, Michael Maguire, Brian Doherty, Ronan Gormley, Adam Pritchard, David Ames, Bruce McCandless, Peter Blakeney, Gareth Watkins, Alan Giles, Alan Sothern
Subs: Joe Brennan, Peter Caruth, Andy McConnell, Jason Lynch, Phelie Maguire
Umpires: Geoff Conn, Andrew Groves