England men lose on penalties

There was an unnerving sense of déjà vu about England’s defeat to New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games bronze medal playoff in Delhi. 

Dean Couzins 8 (PS)  
Nick Haig 15 (F)  
Hayden Shaw 37 (PS)  
Simon Mantell 25, 57, 61 (F, PC, F)  

*New Zealand win 5-3 on penalty strokes

Just as during the semi final defeat to India on Tuesday, a side came from 3-1 down to draw level at 3-3, golden goal extra time failed to produce a winner and when the match eventually reached penalty strokes, England’s third effort was saved by the goalkeeper. 

But in many ways this was different.  It was England that came back from two goals down to send the game to extra time and England who enjoyed the best of the play, particularly later on.

As Captain Barry Middleton said afterwards, “We dominated most parts of the game.  We were better than the New Zealand team.  It’s just that we couldn’t put our chances away.  To lose in a penalty shoot-out twice in three days is really unfortunate.”

After the exertions and emotion of losing Tuesday’s semi final to the hosts, England began slowly and found themselves on the back foot early on.  Just eight minutes into the match a stick tackle inside the English circle resulted in New Zealand being awarded a penalty stroke, which Dean Couzins converted low into the bottom right corner.

While East Grinstead pair Glenn Kirkham and Ashley Jackson, along with Bowdon’s Alastair Brogdon, threatened Kyle Pontifex’s goal soon after it was New Zealand that enjoyed the best of the early exchanges.  They went 2-0 ahead in the 15th minute when Nick Haig smashed home a shot across goal into the far corner of the net after he had been played in by his captain, Phil Burrows.

The world’s number seven side had further efforts to extend their lead from penalty corners but both were sent over the top. At 2-0 up and with 24 minutes played England were fortunate not to go further behind when Hugo Inglis somehow deflected the ball over the crossbar rather than into the goal from just a metre out. 

The miss was to prove important when England responded as they looked to get back into the match and less than a minute later Reading’s Simon Mantell pulled a goal back.  Running in behind the Blacksticks’ defence, Mantell cleverly chipped the ball over Pontifex and into the goal as the goalkeeper advanced.  It was Mantell’s eighth of the tournament and took him to the top of England’s Commonwealth Games all time goal scorers list with eight. 

The goal reinvigorated England, who created a series of chances including two penalty corners that Jackson saw saved by Pontifex and a shot across the face of goal by Surbiton’s James Tindall.

Having hauled themselves back into the match, England were dealt a setback when goalkeeper James Fair took out Inglis and for the second time in the match had to face a penalty stroke.  This time it was Hayden Shaw who stepped up, flicking the ball high into the top left to make it 3-1.

Another English penalty corner came and went before Richard Smith, playing in his 50th international for England, set up James Tindall from close range but the 27 year old saw his shot blocked.

With just less than 20 minutes remaining, New Zealand’s Steve Edwards was shown a yellow card for a challenge that left England captain Barry Middleton requiring treatment to a facial injury.  With Edwards off the pitch England capitalised, winning the penalty corner that lead to Simon Mantell’s second goal.  It was a goal made in Somerset as the Mantell brothers combined with Richard’s low flick deflected home by Simon.

With an unnerving familiarity England scored again to equalise at for 3-3, just as India had done in the semi final.  In a move that left the Blacksticks defence standing, Loughborough Students’ Nick Catlin fed Middleton who in turn found Jackson.  Jackson did well to control the ball on the rise to set up Simon Mantell for his hat-trick, knocking in his seventh of the tournament and his tenth in all Commonwealth Games.

With no further goals the match went to golden goal extra time.  Despite winning three penalty corners to New Zealand’s one, England could not reach the highs of Tuesday night when they scored three of four and hit the bar with the fourth.  A last minute deflection from Simon Mantell squirmed agonisingly past Pontifex’s goal and for the second consecutive match, England faced a penalty strokes competition.

Four of England’s five takers were retained from Tuesday with Adam Dixon replacing Kirkham, who saw his effort saved by the Indian goalkeeper in the semi final.  Just as on Tuesday both sides converted their initial efforts with Richard Smith and Richard Mantell on target for England.  Hayden Shaw converted the Blacksticks’ third but Beeston’s Dixon was desperately unfortunate to see Pontifex diving low to his right to save England’s third stroke with his stick.  Andrew Hayward netted New Zealand’s fourth as did Ashley Jackson for England but when Fair could do nothing to save Shea McAleese’s fifth penalty it was all over as New Zealand won the bronze medal, 5-3 on penalty strokes.

A dejected hat-trick scorer Simon Mantell said afterwards, “There’s not many words to describe it; [I’m] absolutely gutted right now.  Four years ago a similar thing happened against Malaysia that we should have won.  But today was tough.  We didn’t start particularly well but we put in an awesome fight and just played our hockey.  We had chances but their goalie had a great game.”

His captain Barry Middleton agreed, saying, “We dominated most parts of the game.  We were better than the New Zealand team.  It’s just that we couldn’t put our chances away.  To lose in a penalty shoot-out twice in three days is really unfortunate.”

Middleton labelled England’s fourth place finish as “frustrating”, saying, “We know that we are a good team – probably the second best in the tournament.  All we needed to do was prove it.”

England head coach Jason Lee said, “I thought the start reflected the scheduling and I began to wonder if we were completely spent.  But we showed good quality and commitment to get back into it. 

He added, “We’ve gone through the whole tournament and not lost a game in normal time.”

England’s fourth place finish is their second in two Commonwealth Games having lost 2-0 to Malaysia in 2006.  England finished fifth in 2002 and won the bronze medal, on penalty strokes over India, in 1998 when hockey made its Games debut.