Awesome England storm into semi-finals with stunning win
08 July 2011
England produced arguably the performance of the competition so far in what proved to be an absolute demolition of Northern Ireland. The expectation was for Sue Hawkins’ side to progress but to do it with such aplomb against a valiant Irish side was to be admired. At the final whistle a semi-final place against New Zealand had been booked with a crushing 87 – 16 win.
After producing their best in patches and spells in the opening matches it seems that England are starting to peak at the right time with four consistent quarters of fantastic netball that will provide the squad with perfect momentum to take into a semi-final against the winner of the New Zealand and South Africa clash. England were determined to take the game to their opponents and once more started like a train as they led 8 – 1 after the opening five minutes. The Northern Ireland side were clearly struggling with nerves and with the persistence of Jade Clarke and Karen Atkinson in mid-court, they were meekly conceding possession.
Pamela Cookey was having a fantastic start to the game, sinking nine out of nine attempts in the first quarter. Her attacking partner Joanne Harten was showcasing her agility as she leapt around the circle looking for space that Tamsin Grenway could feed the ball into. This tactic helped the team to break the twenty goal barrier in the first quarter again, sinking 22 shots. The defence was resolute throughout as Sonia Mkoloma led by example with flying interceptions and tips. Eboni Beckford-Chambers provided assured support as the opposition were restricted to a miserly four goals in the opening fifteen minutes. The pattern continued for the second quarter as England piled forward and continued to turn the ball over. Clarke and Atkinson were relishing the challenge as they hurried around the court, seemingly covering every inch that was on offer. The ball movement was swift and the passing accurate
England also continued to be solid at the back and Hawkins was even able to introduce Stacey Francis for Beckford-Chambers with a couple of moments left in the half. This had no impact on the momentum as the TeamBath swap look assured and the defence was only breached on three occasions. The real shame was that Northern Ireland were still suffering from nerves and wasting chances in the circle. Their performances against Australia and Samoa had showed what they were capable of, but sadly for their travelling support today they were misfiring when it mattered. At times, Northern Ireland flooded bodies back in defence but England showed the maturity to work around the circle with patience and consideration, waiting for the prime moment to find their target. This was a fruitful tactic as they continued to increase the lead. Coupled with a rapid transition when turning the ball over and the shooters were getting ample chances. At the interval, England led 41 – 7. Half-time also provided Hawkins with a chance to make a couple of switches, Louisa Brownfield came on for Harten, Geva Mentor switched with Mkoloma and Serena Guthrie replaced Atkinson, as Clarke shifted to C to allow the new arrival a spot at WD.
Another big score looked to be coming as England refused to let up on the pace of the play. Northern Ireland definitely started the second half more promisingly, scoring their first three efforts on goal, but it wasn’t long before old habits resurfaced. Pressure in the mid-court and defence was leading to turnovers and the movement around the circle was too good for the opposition defence as Brownfield and Cookey feasted on scoring opportunities. A better showing from Northern Ireland was lost amongst the sea of England scoring and at the end of the third quarter they were losing sight of their opponents and trailed 63 – 13. Having netted 16 out of 17 attempts, Brownfield’s brief stint on court came to an end as she was replaced by Harten at the start of the fourth quarter. Francis was also given a rest as Mkoloma returned for the final fifteen minutes, and what a fifteen minutes it was.
Play started a little scrappy with both sides losing possession and conceding penalties, but with ten minutes to go England went to another level. A run of 20 unopposed goals was witnessed. Northern Ireland did play their part in this, the chances missed would have caused half their team to run out of fingers and toes in the count. However, England punished them, hard. Mkoloma was leaping all over the defensive circle, making blocks, tip and deflections. Guthrie was on hand to start a quick transition and the movement between Greenway and Cookey meant that the domineering figure of Harten was able to simply finish the move off and send the England score skywards. You had the feeling that the final whistle provided salvation for Northern Ireland, they had the look that would have befallen David Haye if he had been in the ring with both Klitschko brothers. As galling a defeat as it was, the Irish squad should be proud to have reached the quarter-finals and will be determined to erase this performance from their minds as soon as possible when it comes to the final placing matches.
At the other end of the court, England positively bounced off still looking energised, spritely and confident. The word momentum has been used a lot in this tournament and if this performance was not the perfect momentum builder into tomorrow’s semi-final then no other performance ever will be. The defence was stout, solid and steadfast. The mid-court was creative, classy and considered. The attack was destructive, dependable and deadly. The opposition tomorrow may well be the best in the world, defending Commonwealth Games champions and a team full of world class players, but perhaps England have that extra edge, perhaps by peaking at the right time, they have the momentum.
All images courtesy of the WNC Facebook site.