Mixed emotions for Bleby as England miss final

Jack Clee celebrates scoring for England U21

England U21 2 (1)
Peter Scott 32 (FG)
Jack Clee 70 (PC)

Australia U21 2 (1)
Blake Govers 9 (PC)
Tom Craig 66 (FG)

England’s hopes of reaching the final of the Sultan of Johor Cup were dashed as they were forced to settle for a draw with Australia. Needing a win to give themselves a chance of competing in the gold medal match, Jon Bleby’s side could not have asked for a tougher assignment, facing the tournament’s form team who had scored 24 times in four games. However they stepped up to the challenge and could easily have won the match.

“I’m torn with my emotions. We’re really frustrated because we had chances to win this game. Our goal was to make the final and we’re now not going to do that if we’d taken a few chances we could have done.” said a visibly disappointed Bleby after the match.

The opening quarter of an hour was played at a searing pace with both sides throwing men forwards in search of the opening goal. Australia took the lead in the ninth minute thanks to a penalty corner from Blake Govers, finding the top corner of the net with a fierce drag flick. There was no let up and the Burras high press forced England onto the back foot. Bleby’s side grew into the game and just before half time they got themselves level. Jack Clee broke into the circle from the right and the ball fell to Peter Scott whose shot on the turn beat the goalkeeper to make it 1-1.

England controlled much of the second half with Australia now the side on the back foot, forced to hit on the break. Clee set up James Oates for a glorious chance, squaring for the No11 who had just the goalkeeper to beat. Somehow Ashleigh Thomas got a glove on the shot to tip it round the post. Australia were reeling and Jack Turner’s underarm pass freed Rhys Smith whose shot flashed past the far post.

With eight minutes remaining England almost scored one of the goals of the tournament. Oates won the ball deep in his own half and set off on a lung bursting run breaking three tackles on the way. He found Scott in space and his cross connected with a diving Clee whose deflection went inches wide.

England were made to pay moments later as Kiran Arunasalam’s driving run got the ball to Samuel Liles who in turn found Tom Craig to apply the finish. England went to a kicking back and created chances in the dying minutes. Clee’s spin and shot tested the goalkeeper and then Chris Proctor’s backhand stung Thomas’ gloves. With one last effort England won a penalty corner. The initial shot was deflected to Jack Waller who calmly squared for Clee to touch in at the far post to salvage a draw for England.

Despite his disappointment on missing the final, Bleby paid tribute to his team saying:

“I’m incredibly proud of our performance today. We have young team here and we were playing against a strong Australia side and I thought our boys did brilliantly. Individually I’m proud of them but we’re disappointed we can’t play in the final.”

“We’ll prepare quickly. This game is gone now but we’ll try to win a medal. Bronze would be a great achievement and it’ll be a tough game whoever we play but we’ll come out all guns blazing tomorrow.”