ENGLAND’s men were crowned champions of the 2014 Investec London Cup after Ireland took the hosts to a penalty shootout at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre on Sunday.
An ice-cool final penalty from Simon Mantell secured the win after goals in normal time from Alastair Brogdon and David Condon were cancelled out by Eugene Magee and a last-gasp strike from Michael Darling.
The hosts started the final strongly in front of a vocal crowd in the packed stands. The ball was being moved fluidly around the back with both Barry Middleton and Ashley Jackson dropping and offering outlets before offloading the ball wide.
But for all the possession, the Irish defence worked hard to nullify opportunities around their circle.
England’s first sight of goal came as Brogdon fired a ball across the face of the goal but no one could touch it in.
In the sixth minute it was Brogdon with the opener though, flicking the ball home on the reverse. Minutes later Mark Gleghorne sensed the opportunity for a second, pulling the ball back after forcing David Harte in the Ireland net to commit but again no England players had anticipated the move.
Middleton showed his mercurial skills, seemingly make the ball dance around his markers, dragging the ball left to right at eye-watering speed.
Pressure from the hosts earned a penalty corner. With Jackson substituted, Gleghorne took control but blazed the ball a whisker over the bar and a slick inter-lacing pass move found Brogdon again, who shot wide and Mantell also soon after created space for a shot on the turn but skewed wide.
The Green Machine got the dream start to the second half with Eugene Magee catching the English defence napping and pulling them level just a minute into play.
The equaliser was the catalyst that put fire in the belly of an already physical encounter and buoyed the Irish.
But England were up again just over 10 minutes later when Adam Dixon managed to intercept an Irish pass one-handed and fed the ball to Mark Gleghorne, who in turn slipped it to David Condon whose fierce shot bulged the net, via the foot of Irish captain John Jackson.
England won another penalty corner when Simon Mantell picked up a gargantuan aerial from Iain Lewers and drew a foul in the circle.
Ashley Jackon’s flick however shot low past Harte’s left post.
The English defence was caught napping when a seemingly benign ball out to Alan Sothern on the baseline was fired across on the reverse and Darling tapped home the equaliser, which forced the game to a penalty shootout come the final whistle.
Ireland got second bites on two of their shuttles after England goalkeeper George Pinner was judged to have taken down Alan Sothern and Michael Robson respectively. Sothern duly converted both resulting flicks, however the Irish’s other two attempts, from Michael Watt and Eugene Magee were saved by Pinner.
England scored from their first three penalties from Jackson, Middleton and Harry Martin and meaning it was left to Mantell to seal the deal. Calmly rounding Harte and firing over the prone ‘keeper he did just that, to the delight of the crowd.
Speaking after the game, Irish captain John Jackson said: “In comparison to how we did yesterday we were a lot tighter at the back today and a lot more responsible in where we losing the ball.
“We were a bit more Irish, a bit more dogged.
“Yesterday we just started slowly, maybe in the knowledge that we had already qualified for the final.”
Post-match, England’s Simon Mantell praised the crowd and the new venue. Of the game, he said: “It was a little tighter than we would have liked really.
“Ireland came out and played better today than they did yesterday.
“Our composure was not quite were we would have liked it to be, but winning games when you’re not playing well is reassuring.”