Craig Fulton’s tenure as Irish senior men’s hockey coach began with a 3-0 defeat to world number four side England in Reading last night.
The hosts corner routine served them well as Ashley Jackson’s double – one in each half – along with a rebound from Harry Martin at the set piece powered them to a controlled win in the 100th meeting between the two sides.
South African native Fulton only arrived in Ireland earlier this week and his first job is to assess the panel with a view to the Champions Challenge I in Malaysia later this month.
To that end, just five of last August’s European championship line-up were used while England – with the World Cup on the horizon – used 15 of the panel that drew with Ireland 2-2 at the Euros, reflecting the diverging current interests of the two sides.
The game started cageily but Jonathan Bell did cause some early trouble which allowed the visitors to force a penalty corner inside five minutes. After being side-lined with an injury for seven weeks, Beeston’s George Pinner swiftly dealt with the resulting Irish drag-flick.
A reverse stick strike from Reading’s Simon Mantell in the 21st minute rifled just wide of the goal and, as England held onto possession, they were awarded a penalty corner moments later.
Jackson rounded the first defender and fired the ball high in to the top right corner past David Fitzgerald in Ireland’s goal, giving England a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute.
It wasn’t long before England were back on the score-sheet. Another corner in the 31st minute allowed Martin to make his mark on the game; picking up an initially saved ball, there was very little Fitzgerald could do as he watched Martin’s shot fly past him.
The second half was a somewhat one-sided affair as England dominated possession, however John Jackson’s Irish side were resolute in their one-on-one defence and kept the home-side at bay until the final minute.
With 30 seconds on the clock, England captain Barry Middleton made one last break for goal, running from the half way to force an error and win a corner.
Much to the delight of the capacity home crowd of 1,120, Jackson stepped up and scored his second of the game, with another flick to the top right corner.
Speaking about the tie, Middleton said that having a sold out crowd was a big tonic for the players: “We’re working hard to get more people interested in hockey and hopefully next time we play we can get even more people down to watch. We’ve got the [Investec] London Cup in July and we should get a few thousand in the new legacy stadium on Olympic Park, and that’s the sort of thing we want for our sport.”
Ireland play England again this morning at 12pm in Bisham Abbey.
Ireland: D Fitzgerald, S West, J Bell, M Bell, P Brown, P Brown, N Burns, C Cargo, D Carlisle, D Carson, S Dowds, J Duncan, S Loughrey, J Jackson, J Lynch, M Robson, H Spain, A Sothern