England 3 Spain 1
Having started their home FIH Pro League campaign in disappointing fashion the previous weekend by drawing one match with China 1-1 before missing out on the shootout and then losing 3-1 in normal time the next day, England Women bounced back to secure all three points against Spain at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre.
Spain, ranked eighth in the world, had also had mixed fortunes the week before in Antwerp, beating Belgium 2-1 in Game One before crashing 3-0 in Game Two.
England, ranked four places higher in fourth, recalled goalkeeper Maddie Hinch and Anna Toman to the squad for the weekend’s matches but elected to allow Sabbie Heesh to play the whole game in goal with Toman in the starting lineup.
The first quarter saw both teams largely cancel each other out, although Grace Balsdon came close to opening the scoring in the fourteenth minute, Jana Martínez saving an initial shot before a second penalty corner was immediately awarded, Balsdon firing past the left post.
England were almost caught out in similar fashion at the start of the second quarter as they conceded Spain’s first penalty corner within ten seconds before also having to face an immediate re-award, Spain’s captain, Maria Lopez at the heart of both penalty corner opportunities.
Two minutes later, Spain counter attacked after England’s third penalty corner was defended with Lucia Jiminez having an attempted shot before England were able to regroup.
In the 21st minute, Tess Howard’s shot saw the ball flash past the left post and a minute later, the breakthrough finally came from England’s fourth penalty corner. Giselle Ansley celebrated winning her 100th England cap by putting her country ahead, Spanish defender Xantal Gine inadvertently deflecting the ball over the goal line while stationed at the right post.
A team is never more vulnerable than when they have just scored and Spain had two opportunities to quickly prove the statement as they forced two penalty corners from successive attacks. Lopez’s shot went wide of the right post from the first and then Gine had the opportunity to make amends for her inadvertent defensive lapse, forcing a save from Heesh before Laura Barrios put the rebound past the left post.
Two minutes before half time, England doubled their lead with a well worked passing move which saw Flora Peel and Holly Hunt combine to find Lily Owsley who went round the goalkeeper and slid the ball from a narrow angle from the right into the far corner of the goal before wheeling away in celebration.
Martinez denied Balsdon again from England’s fifth penalty corner just 27 seconds before the interval, but gave way to Melanie Garcia in the Spanish goal at the start of the third quarter.
In the 40th minute, Toman had a shot blocked from England’s sixth penalty corner after Sophie Hamilton had been fouled by Constanza Amundson, but Ansley’s foul on Laia Vidosa at the other end a minute later was to prove more costly, Gine finding the backboard from Spain’s fifth penalty corner to bring them back into the match.
Within 40 seconds of the start of the fourth quarter, England’s two goal advantage was restored and Gine was unlucky again as a deflection from Balsdon’s drag-flick saw the ball career into the top left corner of the goal.
Shortly afterwards, Spain lost their right to their video referral after suggesting that a penalty corner should have been awarded for a stick block.
With seven minutes remaining, Gine’s attempt to play the ball along the right wing saw Peel struck by the ball from close range and then with five minutes to play, Lara Pampin was struck on the left shoulder when her teammate, Georgina Oliva was trying to clear the ball, Pampin falling to the ground and needing treatment before walking off the pitch whilst exercising her shoulder.
In the 56th minute, Spain couldn’t quite manage to force the ball over the line in an attempt to reduce their deficit and somehow England managed to defend.
Still trailing 3-1, Spain replaced Garcia in their goal with an extra attacking player with just two minutes and seventeen seconds to play, to try and find the two goals they needed to force a shootout but England held on for the morale boosting win.
Spain will have the chance to reverse the result on Sunday afternoon at 1430 BST.
Scorers: Giselle Ansley 22-PC, Lily Owsley 28-F, Grace Balsdon 46-PC
Starters: Laura Unsworth, Anna Toman, Hannah Martin, Holly Hunt, Ellie Rayer, Hollie Pearne-Webb (Captain), Fiona Crackles, Sophie Hamilton, Sabbie Heesh (GK), Lily Owsley, Grace Balsdon.
Subs: Flora Peel (4 mins), Tess Howard (5), Izzy Petter (5), Giselle Ansley (5), Shona McCallin (7), Lily Walker (7).
Sub not used: Maddie Hinch (GK).
Cards: Green: Ellie Rayer (44 mins).
Scorer: Xantal Gine 41-PC
Starters: Sara Barrios, Lucia Jiminez, Maria Lopez (Capt.), Marta Segu, Constanza Amundson, Maialen Garcia, Xantal Gine, Beatriz Perez, Georgina Oliva, Alejandra Torres-Quevedo, Jana Martinez (GK).
Subs: Laura Barrios (4 mins), Lara Pampin (4), Florencia Amundson (4), Laia Vidosa (4), Júlia Strappato (5), Begoña Garcia (11), Melanie Garcia (GK) (30+).
Cards: Green: Lucia Jiminez (13 mins).
Umpires: Laurine Delforge (Belgium) and Sarah Wilson (Scotland)