Blacksticks intensity sees off inconsistent Irish

World League Round Three
Ireland 2 (Alan Sothern, Mikey Watt) New Zealand 4 (own goal, Nick Haig, Blair Hilton, Andy Hawyard)

New Zealand’s second half intensity put punished a lack-lustre Irish performance that showed the gap they still have to bridge to mix it at the top table of world hockey.

Too often, Ireland’s outletting from the back was picked off by an impressive blacksticks’ press while the penalty corner defence was again susceptible to a glove side drag-flick.

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Ireland had led early on from Alan Sothern’s penalty stroke but a Jonny Bell own goal left the game level at 1-1 at the break. And while Mikey Watt thumped home for 2-2, a field goal from Blair Hilton and drag flicks from Nick Haig and Andy Hayward saw the Blacksticks pull clear.

Both coaches discussed the “consistency” of their performance of their respective game, Andrew Meredith obviously less pleased than Colin Batch.

“The result, while deserved, was disappointing on a number of levels,” he said. “The performance was far too inconsistent over the 70 minutes, we were ineffective in critical offensive areas, and probably most disappointing was the contribution from some of the more senior experienced players, who made far too many errors in regards to executing our game plan.”

Meredith added: “Obviously due to the fact that we only have one point after two games, it is important that we return to the core elements of our process, and look at how we can execute better in the coming matches.”

Batch, meanwhile, said: “Today was a big step forward. Ireland have proven recently that they’re a difficult team to play against and we overcame a lot of hurdles with players given cards to go on and secure the win.

“Certainly, in the second half we were a lot more consistent and we converted two of three penalty corners which we see as a strength of our game.”

New Zealand did survive 16 minutes worth of suspensions with Arun Panchia’s 10-minute yellow card reducing their numbers for a loose stick that caught Andy McConnell in the face in the minutes leading up to half-time.

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But Ireland did not really punish these indiscretions, struggling to find space when New Zealand reverted to half-court but showing a more positive turn on the counter-attack when the Blacksticks pressed high.

From one break, Chris Cargo was found on the left of the circle and stung the palm of Hamish McGregor. They hit the front in the 18th minute when Peter Caruth burned past Blair Tarrant to win the first corner of the game.

Alan Sothern dragged it and it hit Dean Couzins on the chest, allowing Sothern flick home the shorter distance of the penalty spot, sending McGregor the wrong way.

The lead lasted only a couple of minutes despite Alex Shaw departing for a green suspension as Haig’s whipped ball into the circle saw Bell turn home the ball as he moved to block the effort of Phil Burrows.

Haig turned scorer 12 minutes into the second half as Ireland endured the same jitters that afflicted their second half performance against India in game one. It came from New Zealand’s first corner, won by Marcus Child, with Haig picking the glove-side route that Rupinder Pal Singh had twice nailed on Thursday.

Watt leveled immediately as Stuart Loughrey’s reverse-stick cross from the right made it all the way to the middle where the SCHC man wriggled into some room and, back to goal, picked out the top corner with a superb squeeze-shot.

But with 15 minutes left, New Zealand made their move. Haig intercepted a poor ball out of defence on the 25 and his side had masses of numbers over. Hugo Inglis was fed on the baseline and he picked out Blair Hilton for a simple tap in.

Hayward then sealed the deal from his side’s third corner, flicking in low to the same spot.

It leaves Ireland with one point from two games to date with the Netherlands next. They drew with New Zealand 3-3 in game one, producing a rousing finish to grab a point, but have made a string of changes to their line-up as, guaranteed a World Cup berth as hosts, they are able to experiment.

Elsewhere in the group, the Netherlands beat India 2-0, a result which pushes Ireland above the Indians in the pool into third on goals scored.

New Zealand: H McGregor, N Haig, A Hayward, D Couzins, B Hilton, M Child, P Burrows, A Shaw, S Neal, A Panchia, S Jenness
Subs: C Bennett, J Smith, J Panchia, B Tarrant, H Inglie, G Muir

Ireland: D Harte, J Jackson, R Gormley, C Cargo, A Sothern, P Caruth, A McConnell, T Cockram, P Maguire, P Gleghorne, C Harte
Subs: J Bell, M Watt, K Good, J Bruton, S Loughrey, S O’Donoghue, D Fitzgerald

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