Great Britain’s women put in a commanding performance in the second of two tests against the Olympic silver medallists China at Bisham Abbey but despite outplaying their Asian opponents for long spells it was China who came out on top, winning 3-1.
Before the match there was a presentation made to Leicester defender Crista Cullen who was making her 50th appearance in a Great Britain shirt, while there was a Great Britain debut for Slough’s Ashleigh Ball.
Bowdon Hightown goalkeeper Kirsty Mackay was called on early in the match and she began well with a powerful clearance from a Chinese cross.
Head Coach Danny Kerry said after Wednesday’s opening match that he wanted to see more penetrative play from his team and it was clear early on that Great Britain were looking to act on those words as a couple of early through balls just failed to reach their intended recipients.
Like Wednesday however it was China who broke the deadlock and again it was from a penalty corner. With eight minutes on the clock, from the first corner of the match, Ye Ren pulled the ball out to the top of the circle and Sinan Sun flicked a low effort under the body of Mackay for 1-0.
Two minutes after the goal Great Britain saw their first sight of goal as Slough’s Nicola White squared a pass to Reading midfielder Helen Richardson whose flick just missed the left post with Chinese goalkeeper Yimeng Zhang struggling to get across her goal.
Looking to hit Great Britain on the break, China held their ground before countering against a GB defence short on numbers at the back but Canterbury’s Natalie Seymour did well to make two blocks inside the British circle.
Four minutes after going behind Great Britain were level after a quick passing move down the right hand side high in Chinese territory. Bowdon Hightown’s Sam Quek found Charlotte Craddock on the baseline inside the right of the circle and her pass to the centre was met by the England Hockey League’s top goal scorer Alex Danson. Looking for her 30th goal at international level Danson was unlucky to see the goalkeeper block her shot but it rebounded Danson’s clubmate Jo Ellis who fired the ball home to make it 1-1.
Unfortunately for Great Britain, the score was not level for long as Yudiao Zhao finished well to net the game’s third goal in the space of seven minutes. Picking up on a loose pass out of the British defence Yudiao Zhao broke through the 23m line before entering the circle and firing home a reverse stick effort that Mackay could only get a pad on but could not keep out.
In the 20th minute Danson’s shot on the reverse came up off the goalkeeper but Clifton’s Craddock was unable to control the volley as the ball flew towards her and the chance was gone.
China’s Zhen Sun received the first of her team’s six cards in the 26th minute and with the visitors down to ten players for two minutes Great Britain pressed up the field. For what remained of the first half China were content to allow Great Britain to control possession, which they did comfortably following two more cards; a green to Hongxia Li and a yellow to Sinan Sun, the scorer of the opening goal.
In the opening exchanges of the second half University of Birmingham midfielder Susie Gilbert showed good skill to win two free hits in quick succession on the edge of the Chinese circle but the Chinese defence held firm.
Five minutes after the break China won their second penalty corner which Mengyu Wang flicked onto the right post from the top of the circle and Great Britain survived.
At the other end, on a quick breakaway, Alex Danson’s deflected pass reached Katie Long in the inside left channel from where she played a delightfully weighted pass to the back post. Unfortunately for Long the pass was not met by Rachel Walker, who had broken forward in support and it was China’s turn to breathe a sigh of relief.
Enjoying the better of the possession, Great Britain were showing much of the patience that Danny Kerry had talked about on Wednesday and they increased that command further when Zhen Sun saw yellow for failing to retreat at a free hit.
With the Chinese number 13 off the pitch Great Britain thought they were set to equalise midway through the half. Helen Richardson found Katie Long in front of the goalkeeper and the Leicester forward drew Yimeng Zhang out of position before pulling the ball back to Danson just behind the penalty spot. Her looping reverse stick effort looked destined to dip under the bar into the top right corner before the last minute intervention of a Chinese defender’s stick hooked the ball away from danger, maintaining China’s one goal advantage.
GB won their first penalty corner shortly afterwards but Kate Walsh’s effort was blocked and China scrambled clear. Soon after, Bowdon Hightown’s Sally Walton combined with Long to cause more disarray inside the China circle.
Incredibly, against the run of play and with 54 minutes on the clock, China snatched a breakaway goal. Hongxia Li won the ball in midfield and passed inside to Yudiao Zhao who drove through the British half and squared to the top of the circle to the waiting Baorong Fu who slipped it home beyond the onrushing Mackay for 3-1.
Despite the setback Great Britain stuck to their game plan, upping the tempo and the pressure. The hosts were left appealing for a penalty corner when Jo Ellis’ cross was deflected off the ground and flew past Alex Danson but no decision was forthcoming.
Great Britain were awarded their second penalty corner minutes later and Yimeng Zhang was called upon to produce two saves from the set piece; the first from Crista Cullen and the follow up from Kate Walsh.
With the Chinese visibly tiring Great Britain surged on with further chances falling to Danson and Richardson as GB piled on the pressure. Their reward was two more corners in quick succession. At first of the two, Cullen’s flick deflected off the stick of the number one running defender before Walsh saw her flick from the next saved again by the goalkeeper.
In the final five minutes of the match good work from Ellis set up one last chance for Katie Long on an acute angle but her shot was saved by Yimeng Zhang and China held on for the victory.
Head Coach Danny Kerry told the story afterwards when he said, “we were by far the better side by a country mile today. We generated ample opportunities but we were poor at times in the D.
“There were some encouraging signs. We took them apart. It sounds ridiculous as a coach to say this after losing but we played well today. It’s hugely encouraging how much we limited their opportunities and how many opportunities of our own we created.”
Great Britain-China 1:3 (1:2)
Goal GB: Jo Ellis 12 (F)
Goals China: Sinan Sun 8 (PC), Yudiao Zhao 15 (F), Baorong Fu 54 (F)
Source: Great Britain Hockey ltd
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