(Photo: © FIH / Ady Kerry / EHB)

Penalty corners proved the difference between Great Britain and China in the first test at Bisham Abbey on Wednesday afternoon as China came out 2-1 on top, scoring both of their corners while Great Britain netted one of their six.


Having gone two goals behind early in the second half Great Britain rallied but could only find the net once, from a Cullen flick seven minutes from time, although Kate Walsh did hit the post ten minutes prior to Cullen’s goal.


Playing without their three Scottish players who have joined their home nation squad ahead of the forthcoming World Cup Qualifying tournament in Santiago, Chile, Great Britain Head Coach Danny Kerry handed starts to a number of his less experienced players including a competitive Great Britain debut for Slough defender Chloe Strong.


Great Britain’s first attack began with Cullen as she broke forward in the fourth minute before threading the ball through to Loughborough Students’ Nicola White who won a corner off the Chinese stick. 


Soon after, University of Birmingham midfielder Susie Gilbert had Great Britain’s first shot on goal when the ball broke to her at the top of the circle and with a low reverse stick effort she forced Yimeng Zhang to make a good save with her right foot at full stretch.


China’s first real foray forward came five minutes later with Yudiao Zhao and Jiaojiao De combined well inside the British 23m area but the umpire’s whistle went for an infringement before they could fire off a shot.


With nearly quarter of an hour on the clock a Crista Cullen stick tackle on the edge of the circle was penalised with a penalty corner, the first of the match.  The slip left to Chinese captain Baorong Fu gave the Chinese number eight the space to get a powerful shot off to give China the lead although GB goalkeeper Beth Storry will have been disappointed to be beaten low to her right.


The same player, Baorong Fu, then saw a snap shot deflected wide as she looked to extend China’s lead.


With ten minutes of the first half remaining Olton & West Warwickshire’s Rachel Walker managed to get a deflection on goal after good Great Britain pressure but the ball stayed out and China broke upfield.  Breaking towards the British circle, Baorong Fu was again at the centre of things for the Olympic silver medalists.  Her pass from the edge of the circle towards the back post was cleared by Cullen who swung a stick at the ball to take it clear of the waiting forward.


Contentiously, GB won their first penalty corner four minutes from half time.  The Chinese were aggrieved that the corner was awarded after a stick tackle just inside the 23m area.  From the corner, Cullen took the ball right and fired off a shot, which Yimeng Zhang smothered and the defence cleared as Reading’s Alex Danson advanced on the rebound.


The final five minutes of the first half were busy for umpire Frances Block who, having given the penalty corner award, was then forced to show the green card to two Chinese players in the space of as many minutes before following up with a yellow for Qiuling Zheng in the final minute.  The number 15 had already spent two minutes off the pitch as one of the green carded players and after returning to the pitch, her first involvement was a badly mistimed stick tackle right under the nose of Block.


One nil down at the break, Great Britain returned for the second half looking to grab an early equaliser but it was the Chinese who created the first real opportunity of the half.  Hongxia Li robbed Chloe Strong on the halfway line and, supported by her teammates in red, broke forward with pace.  She played a one-two off the high forward in the circle but with China bearing down on Beth Storry’s goal the Reading goalkeeper was smartly off her line to block the shot with her legs.


The visitors did not have to wait long though to extend their lead, which they did in the 42nd minute from their second penalty corner.  Ye Ren’s swinging flick from the top of the circle crossed the line just inside the left upright to give China a 2-0 lead.


Throughout the match, Great Britain had enjoyed a good amount of territorial midfield possession but without truly troubling China’s back line. 


With just over 15 second half minutes played, an inexplicable mistake from Ye Ren handed Alex Danson the ball at the top of the Chinese circle.  In complete freedom, Reading’s England forward took the ball into the circle but with the goal at her mercy and the adrenalin pumping she sliced her shot wide of the net.


The hosts did not have to wait long for their pressure to count though as they won a series of three penalty corners in succession.  From the first, Cullen’s shot came off the leg of the first runner resulting in another corner.  At the second, the slip sideways to Kate Walsh opened up the goal for the British captain but she could only watch in frustration as her flick came back off the inside of the far post, landing at the stick of a Chinese defender in front of goal. 


The five minute spell had been the best of GB’s performance so far and they won another corner a minute later, which Cullen narrowly put past the left hand post.


At the other end, Yudiao Zhao kept Beth Storry alert with a snap reverse stick shot that the goalkeeper cleared equally quickly.


With 12 minutes remaining Great Britain won their fourth penalty corner after Zhen Sun put the ball off the back line intentionally after a cross from Britain’s youngest female Olympic hockey player Charlotte Craddock.  This time Cullen’s low flick was saved by Yimeng Zhang low to her right and after Leicester’s Hannah Macleod prevented a defender from clearing the ball, her deflection on Kate Walsh’s effort was guided wide by the goalkeeper’s stick.


Entering the final ten minutes Great Britain injected more pace to their game, forcing China onto the back foot and winning yet another brace of penalty corners.  The first came off a Chinese foot inside the circle after Great Britain had failed to execute their plan at the top of the circle but the second went exactly to plan as the ever-involved Cullen found her range, flighting a flick inside the right post to make it 2-1.


As the match came to its conclusion with GB pressing hard for an equaliser Qiuling Zheng saw yellow for the second time as she plucked the ball out of the air high above her shoulder.  Looking to press home their numerical advantage Britain fired two passes right across the China circle but there was nobody in a position to capitalise and the match ended 2-1 to China.


Afterwards, Great Britain Head Coach Danny Kerry said, “I’m disappointed in some ways.  We didn’t execute our penalty corners very well.  While they scored two from two for us to score one from six was disappointing.  China played half court today and against that you have to be patient and penetrative – we only really displayed patience today.” 


With a second test on Friday morning and looking forward to the London Olympic Games in 2012, Kerry added: “We’re using 24 players here this week which will allow us to see who can play at this level.”


The two sides will meet again at 11:00 on Friday at Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre.


Great Britain-China 1:2 (1:0)

Goal Great Britain: Crista Cullen 63 (PC)

Goals China: Barong Fu 14 (PC), Ye Ren 42 (PC)


Source: Great Britain Hockey ltd.