Scotland send Ireland down to European second tier

Women’s TriFinance EuroHockey Championships
Pool C
Ireland 1 (A O’Flanagan) Scotland 3 (C Ralph, N Kidd, H Cram)

Ireland dropped down to the second tier of European competition after a frustrating tournament came to a conclusion, falling 3-1 to Scotland; frustrating that Ireland bossed the opening 25 minutes only to trail at half-time and frustrating that eight corners went unconverted in their must-win final game.

Scotland, meanwhile, were sharp and accurate in the attacking circle, ending up with three goals from their allotment of five corners – one albeit upgraded to a penalty stroke – with Catriona Ralph, Nikki Kidd and Holly Cram on the mark.

EuroHockey 2013Indeed, had Ralph netted another stroke early in the second half, her side could have been out of sight earlier. As it was, the tension was taken out of the game when Cram nabbed the third in the 50th minute, leaving Darren Smith’s charges with little chance of salvaging the day.

“It’s been a tough week and today caps that off,” Smith said afterwards. “There was a heck of a lot of commitment and desire from both teams. Scotland took their chances and were less wasteful. We didn’t and paid the price.”

Captain Alex Speers echoed those thoughts: “In crucial moments, Scotland were the better team and showed composure and the scoreline reflects that.

“There’s utter disappointment throughout the whole team. We came here to do a job and we haven’t done it.”

It looked good for Ireland in the opening stages, Audrey O’Flynn’s first drag tipped around the post by Kareena Marshall while Scottish goalkeeper Amy Gibson was called on four times to intervene.

In the 21st minute, Ireland went in front with their best move of the tournament, a great counter-attack set in motion by Nikki Symmons. Gillian Pinder worked the overload well, passing forward to Alex Speers who laid on a simple finish for Anna O’Flanagan in two-on-one showdown.

But it gave a tentative Scotland the wake-up call to pursue the draw they needed to retain their “A division” status. Kidd’s drag-flick popped up invitingly for injector Cram but Niamh Atcheler checked her volley in mid-air, leading to a stroke.

The foul did not look apparent on first viewing but, after video replay, looked the correct call from Laurine Delforge who enjoyed a decent game while her colleague Caroline Brunekreef had a morning to forget with a spate of bizarre decisions, heightening the tension.

EuroHockey 2013Soon after, Kidd flicked home a corner directly after Emma Smyth had chipped away at Vikki Bunce. It left Ireland 2-1 down despite making most of the first half running and they were almost further behind moments into the second period.

Again from a corner, a deflected effort clipped the inside of Nikki Symmons’ foot but it was dubious whether the ball was en route to goal. Ralph made that point moot when she pinged Emma Gray’s stick-side post, giving Ireland a reprieve.

But Ireland were already becoming ragged in pursuit of goals and hit away too many long balls in desperation, attempting to get the ball forward as quickly as possible.

And their faint hopes were formally snuffed out in the 50th minute by Cram. Again, there was plenty to debate. In the build-up, a right wing cross got a touch into the goal by Linda Clement’s foot but she adjudged to have been pushed and so a corner was given. Kidd fanned it out to the injector to sweep in first time.

From there, Ireland won a rash of corners but could not convert any of them, the most frustrating of which clipped a Scottish foot close to the goal line from an O’Flynn flick. It was probably drifting wide and drew a corner but the Irish complaints saw the original decision reversed.

It meant Ireland were dropping out of the top tier of European hockey for the first time, ending the international year with another low note after March’s World League 2 also saw Ireland perform below pre-tournament ranking.

Reflecting on the tournament, Smith concluded: “The girls have been working incredibly hard and have put hours and hours in, not just here, but in the lead-in. You have a group that are immensely committed and want to play well. So, from my perspective and the girls, it is really hard when we don’t string it together. Tough week but that’s life.”

EuroHockey 2013
Darren Smith, on the malfunctioning penalty corners:
“We struggled to get a shot away. Our pull-outs haven’t been on the ground and we haven’t provided a good platform for Audrey [O’Flynn]. That’s not just today. It was highlighted today because we had eight corners and didn’t get a meaningful shot.

“That was down to good work from Scotland and also our inability to do the basics on a tough pitch. It is frustrating because it should be a source of goals but prior to today, they weren’t operating either.”

Speers on the game: “In crucial moments, Scotland were the better team and showed composure and the scoreline reflects that. There’s utter disappointment throughout the whole team. We came here to do a job and we haven’t it.

Gordon Shepherd, on the game: “Ireland started very well and deservedly went ahead. I think it gave my players the injection they needed to start playing some hockey. We were too defensive and weren’t going forward and retaining the ball in the back line. It wasn’t good.

“We didn’t have lots of opportunities but we took those that came along. 2-1 is a very nervous position to be in and we just asked the players to go out and play. The third goal was vital because we were pretty confident we wouldn’t concede too many.

On Scotland’s tournament as a whole and the future: “I don’t think anyone would deny we have played five fantastic games. We’ve lifted our standard of hockey and competed against every team we have played against and that rarely happens for Scottish teams. We’ve been in a full-time programme this summer and it has paid off and we will be full-time for longer next year and look to make even better improvements.”

** Pictures courtesy of Frank Uijlenbroek/IHA, for more click here

** To read the live blog from the game, click here

Ireland: E Gray, A Speers (capt), S McCay, M Frazer, N Carroll, N Symmons, A O’Flynn, C Watkins, N Atcheler, A O’Flanagan, G Pinder
Subs: C Sargent, E Smyth, L Jacob, N Small, N Daly, N Gray, G O’Flanagan

EuroHockey 2013Scotland: A Gibson, V Bunce, A Bell, C Ralph, H Cram, L Clement, K Marshall, L Fawcett, R Merchant, N Kidd, E Maguire
Subs: M McLellan, S Judge, S McGilveray, N Lloyd, A Howie, N Skrastin, N Cochrane (capt)

Spain 4 (B Perez, G Comerma, R Ybarra, B Bonastre) Belarus 2 (R Batura, V Shyntar)
Spain finished fifth in the women’s TriFinance EuroHockey Championships with a lively 4-2 win over already relegated Belarus completing their schedule with a flourish.

Beatriz Perez put them 1-0 up in the 15th minute with a diving touch to a left wing cross and the lead was doubled before the break when Gloria Comerma hit home a straight penalty corner hit.

Rocio Ybarra extended the lead further early in the second half with a great reverse-stick shot before Belarus fought their way right back into contention.

Ryta Batura’s powerful slap-shot gave them hope with 17 minutes to go, a belief that grew further when Volha Shyntar deflected in her side’s second, making it 3-2.

But Berta Bonastre’s powerful backhand shot flew into the top of the goal off Maryna Navitskaya with ten minutes left to see Spain through to their third win of the competition and top of the relegation pool.

Pool C final standings: 1. Spain 9pts (+4) 2. Scotland 6pts (+2) 3. Ireland 3pts (-2) 4. Belarus 0pts (-4)

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