Hockey: Wandsworth’s Sarah Haycroft urges home support to pull them through QF clash

BY MAX HALL

Wandsworth-born Sarah Haycroft has called upon the vociferous Stratford crowd to play their part in helping England against reigning champions and favourites the Netherlands in the hockey World Cup quarter-finals tomorrow (6pm start).

Haycroft, still clutching the bouquet given her after a player-of-the-match performance in last night’s 2-0 crossover game victory against South Korea, told the South London Press the home crowd’s support will be critical if England are to beat opponents who inflicted a World Cup finals record 12-1 win against Italy in their last outing.

“I think the Dutch won’t want to play us in front of our home crowd. The last time they did, we won the Euros here,” said Haycroft, referring to England’s penalty shoot-out triumph against the Netherlands in the EuroHockey Nations Championship three years ago.

“[The crowd] massively give us that extra boost, they’re behind you when you’re making a tackle, when you’re making an intercept. You go forwards and you can feel them get behind you as you go to try and get a goal opportunity, so it’s extra special going out there in front of them, and hopefully they’ll give us that extra boost [tomorrow].

“We love it when they’re there and if we can have any extra edge over the Dutch then we’ll take that.

“Obviously every time you play the Dutch it’s going to be a very difficult game. They’re the best in the world, ranked number one, so we have to give them that respect, but at the same time we don’t fear them. We’ll go out there and we believe we can win the game if we stick to our gameplan and work hard as a team. I’m sure the crowd will see a very entertaining game.”

There was a south London connection to both goals against Korea last night, in a crossover match which England – pre-tournament favourites to win their pool – were not expected to have to negotiate. It was Haycroft who drew a roar from the crowd in the ninth minute when she perfectly controlled a long arcing ball out of defence by Surbiton teammate Giselle Ansley, pulling it down in the circle and twice setting up Sophie Bray, who scored at the second attempt.

“I’ve played with Giselle for many years now so it’s great that we have these connections,” said Haycroft, who skippers the Surbiton side that dominates the domestic game. “Ellie [Watton] did a lovely lead [run], back towards the ball, so I got high and saw that Giselle was going to play that through, so I was able to bring that down and pass it on to Soph for the goal. I was very happy with that.”

As so often at these finals, England dominated from then on without being able to turn chances into goals until the final minute, when Wimbledon HC’s Anna Toman led a breakaway down the inside right channel before picking out Hollie Pearne-Webb, who found the gap between kicking-back Korean keeper Heesun Jang and the goal, for Lily Owsley to secure tomorrow’squarter-final.

“The Dutch often go out there and get the big scorelines,” said Haycroft of a Netherlands side who registered 7-0 and 7-1 pool victories before routing the Italians. “The last couple of times we’ve played them, they’ve been very, very close matches.”

Suzy Petty, the other Wimbledon HC representative in the England ranks, said fans should not be unduly concerned by the team’s low penalty corner conversion rate in their opening four games, and hinted tomorrow’smatch will be a different affair.

“Hockey’s different to most sports in that [the top nations] play each other most of the time,” said Petty. “We play series’ all the time, we play loads of different tournaments that maybe footballers don’t, so we see each other a lot.

“Some countries have got some really good [penalty corner] routines but as soon as they’ve shown them, we know how to defend that. It’s about trying, at the start of the tournament, not to show them,” she added, pointing out the Dutch only scored from one of their first 14 short corners in the tournament.

“We know we’ve got ‘bankers’ that we will call and now the tournament’s got going we’ll call those, and no doubt we’ll score them.”

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