Howard (42’ FG); Balsdon (51’ PC)
Struijk (6’ FG)
England’s women came from behind to take all three points from Belgium in their penultimate FIH Hockey Pro League game of the season.
Trailing 1-0 at half time to a well-taken Michelle Struijk goal, David Ralph’s side found strikes in the second half to turn the game on its head. Firstly Tess Howard finished very well on 42 minutes, then with nine remaining Grace Balsdon fired home from a penalty corner.
Player of the match Fiona Crackles said: “It was tough out there, I thought we started well but they scored first. We kept believing, half time was big for us, some clear points to improve on and we came together as a team.
“We kept playing brave hockey even when the pressure was high, we know we can play through teams and we did that at the end.”
The two sides go head-to-head again on Sunday and Belgium – currently ranked six in the world, the highest position in their history – will be aiming for revenge.
England: Hinch, Toman, Pearne-Webb, Ansley, Unsworth, McCallin, Peel, Howard, Martin, Rayer, Owsley
Subs (used): Hunt, Petter, Crackles, S Hamilton, Balsdon, Walker
Subs (unused): Heesh (GK)
Belgium took the advantage early on, pinching possession in England territory; Michelle Struijk darting into the D before producing a lovely dinked finish for 1-0 with six minutes gone.
The Red Panthers were in the ascendancy in that first quarter, while Lily Owsley looked most dangerous for England early on.
Maddie Hinch had to save well as Belgium continued to press in the second quarter, with the visitors trying their luck from three penalty corners in quick succession. England then had their own corner and were perhaps unfortunate to lose their referral when asking for a Belgian foot. Come half time it was Belgium on top and England trailing.
Early into the third quarter and England won an early corner but actually ending up defending as Charlotte Engelbert broke away and forced another save from Hinch. Soon afterwards she tried her luck again but once more Hinch kept her out.
Then with 39 on the clock, England began to turn the game on its head. Elena Sotgiu produced a good double save to deny Sophie Hamilton and Hannah Martin, and with that moment the home side had begun to swing the game in their favour.
With 42 minutes played Fiona Crackles went on an excellent burst from halfway, supplying Tess Howard on the edge of the D. Although in space, Howard still had a fair amount to do to get the ball under control and fire home clinically into the corner.
Before the end of the third quarter Ellie Rayer almost found another goal and England concluded the period with a real spring in their step.
And so it continued as the game came toward a conclusion; Lily Owsley doing well to win a corner that Grace Balsdon was able to lash into the middle of the goal.
Head Coach David Ralph will have been very happy with how his team responded at half time, and three points were very welcome for his side. With this same squad have being named as the 18 for the World Cup, Commonwealth Games and Euro Qualifiers this summer, it was the perfect time to put on a good display.