Bray double sends England into HWL semi-final

Sophie Bray v USA HWL F 2017
USA (0) 1
Gonzalez (53, PC)

England (1) 2
Bray (7, FG; 41, FG)

Two goals from Sophie Bray ensured England progressed to the semi-finals of the Sentinel Homes Hockey World League final with a hard fought win over the USA.

The forward struck in the first and third quarters, turning the ball into the net after strong work down the baseline by Alex Danson and Livy Paige respectively.

A late penalty corner strike by Melissa Gonzalez gave the Americans hope and they pressed to find the equaliser but England managed to hold firm.

They will now play hosts New Zealand - who overcame Argentina in their quarter-final - on Friday 24 November, a match which Danson is relishing as her team continues to improve with each game.

England’s captain said: “We’re delighted with that performance. We had to battle hard at the end but we’re delighted that we came through it.

“It was a really professional performance tonight. We had a lot of control against a very good American team who are very physical and very quick so we’re very happy with the win.

“It’s fantastic to be here in New Zealand and to have the opportunity to play against the host nation will be special for us. It’s going to be a fantastic game.”

As she did in the final group game against China, Lily Owsley sparked England into life in the fifth minute with a defence-splitting run, winning a corner that eventually fell to Laura Unsworth but her scuffed strike was easily saved by Jackie Briggs.

Owsley then narrowly failed to find Bray after another great run down the baseline but the forward was able to capitalise on an almost identical opportunity just seconds later, this time deflecting Danson’s cross into the net.

England dominated the rest of the first half from there on without creating too many chances, Hollie Pearne-Webb coming closest from a 12th minute corner, although Maddie Hinch was called into action for the first time to keep out Erin Matson seconds before the interval.

That seemed to inspire the Americans as they started the second half on top, Jill Witmer forcing Hinch into another save in the 31st minute before Caitlin van Sickle just failed to deflect Michelle Vitesse’s corner flick on target.

Ali Froede then also came close from a corner but it was England who struck next as Bray deflected home Paige’s cross after the 20-year-old showed some class by rolling away from a defender before an intelligent exchange with Ellie Rayer.

Danson almost increase the lead to three with a diving effort at the start of the final quarter before Gonzalez smashed a corner into the corner of Hinch’s goal in the 53rd minute to give her side hope.

But despite dominating the closing minutes, the US could not find a way past a compact English defence determined to inflict revenge on an American side who beat them in a shootout in the summer’s Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final.

After the game Bray admitted she was happy to find herself on the scoresheet for a second consecutive game - taking her tournament tally to three - after a tough start to the tournament. 

“As a striker you want to score goals and when they don’t come it is frustrating as you want to help the team. It’s just a case of patience and waiting.

“To be fair both goals today were just a case of being in the right place at the right time. They both came after some fantastic build up play and I just had to turn the ball into the net.

“It’s really exciting to see the young ones come in with the new energy and it’s really enjoyable to play with them and watch them grow.”

England will face New Zealand at 7:15am on Friday 24 November in a game you can watch on BT Sport.

Starting XI: Hinch, Unsworth, Haycroft, Toman, Petty, Danson, Defroand, Ansley, Bray, Pearne-Webb, Owsley

Subs (Used): Martin, Paige, Sanders, Rayer, McCallin, Balsdon

Subs (Not Used): Tennant