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Dublin: 9 °C Saturday 16 February, 2019

Frustrating China stalemate leaves Ireland facing do-or-die England showdown

Alexander Cox’s side were left to rue their inaccuracy and profligacy in today’s Pool B encounter.

Ireland 1

China 1

DESPITE HAVING LARGE tracts of this contest, commanding the possession stakes and circle penetration statistics, Ireland’s disjointed inaccuracy and profligacy in the final third meant their dominance wasn’t reflected in the only important metric.

The wait for a first Men’s Hockey World Cup win since 1978 lingers on, as Alexander Cox’s side were held to a frustrating stalemate by a stubborn Chinese outfit, who have now defied their 17th-ranked status with draws against England and Ireland to change the complexion of Pool B.

gettyimages-1068301682-594x594 Alan Sothern celebrates Ireland's equaliser. Source: Getty Images for FIH

It means Ireland’s World Cup campaign hangs on Friday’s final pool encounter against England, with the Green Machine requiring a draw to advance through to the crossover stage of the tournament.

Had Ireland managed to display better skill execution and decision-making here, the route through ought to have been a lot more straightforward but as it is, that do-or-die clash at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar is huge for both nations.

Ireland will need to produce a much-improved performance if they are to harbour hopes of dumping England out, as for all their possession and territory against China, they lacked a cutting edge inside the opposition 23, often wasting opportunities through poor connections and skill execution.

The standout moment was Alan Sothern’s slick deflected goal as he manoeuvred his feet and stick brilliantly to get on the end of Michael Robson’s reverse cross from the left, after China had taken the lead against the run of play.

Having soaked up all of Ireland’s pressure in the first half, the Asian side struck at the other end thanks to a well-worked penalty corner move, which saw Talake Du slip the ball to Jin Guo, who dragged it powerfully into the top corner past David Harte.

Cox’s charges responded well, though, and found an instant equaliser through Sothern, but despite a late flurry of chances — including a last-gasp Shane O’Donoghue PC — Ireland had to settle for a point, which sets up that titanic tussle against the old enemy later in the week.

“We performed well but ultimately our lack of conversion in front of goal came back to haunt us unfortunately,” Harte said.

“All the statistics were in our favour but you have to take the opportunities presented to you, we know every game in a World Cup is going to be a difficult one.”

Ireland will reflect on their poor strike rate in their post-match appraisal and certainly they created enough openings in the first half to take control of the contest on the scoreboard.

Enjoying 60% of the possession in the opening period, Ireland’s dominance grew with Sothern looking the most likely in front of goal, as the Pembroke forward saw his tomahawk effort flash over.

gettyimages-1068347604-594x594 Shane O'Donoghue in action. Source: Getty Images for FIH

Ireland appeared to have taken the lead shortly before the half hour mark when umpire Javed Shaikh awarded a goal after Sothern had touched O’Donoghue’s cross home, but replays showed the ball had actually gone the wrong side of the post from an Irish perspective. 

As the pressure was building, Ireland pushed and probed for the breakthrough as Mitch Darling twice came close, his second effort ruled out after he had tipped Jonny Bell’s ball into the net. 

Bell was then shown yellow for tripping a Chinese forward, and from the resulting PC, the world’s number 17 ranked side hit the front to give them aspirations of a first-ever World Cup win.

As it was, Ireland rebounded strongly and equalised through man of the match Sothern, but alas couldn’t find the winning goal in the closing stages, as China defended aggressively and manfully throughout to repel the green onslaught.

O’Donoghue, seeking one goal to break the Irish goalscoring record, saw his drag-flick come back off the ‘keeper’s pads and then another disallowed goal with three seconds left on the clock just about typified Ireland’s evening.

Up and running with a point, Ireland now lie third in Pool B behind leaders Australia and China, but ahead of England on goal difference.

It all comes down to Friday.

Ireland: David Harte; Jonathan Bell, Matthew Nelson, Alan Sothern, Eugene Magee, Kirk Shimmins, Shane O’Donoghue, Sean Murray, Paul Gleghorne, Conor Harte, Stuart Loughrey.

Rolling subs: Matthew Bell, Chris Cargo, Mitch Darling, Michael Robson, Daragh Walsh, Lee Cole.

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Ryan Bailey

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