Unlucky defeat fails to dent confidence of buoyant Irish girls
England 1 Ireland 0
Ireland finally tasted defeat for the first time at the Women's World Cup as they went down to England in London but nothing could deny them their place in the last eight in the elite event.
The contest was undecided until seven minutes from time when Giselle Ansley's shot went past stand-out goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran with the assistance of a deflection off Hannah Matthew's leg. The goal came at a penalty corner, one of 15 the English earned over the hour as they dominated the action from start to finish.
Now Graham Shaw's team can look forward to a quarter-final against Italy or India on Thursday, with every reason to believe they can reach the semis.
After all, they have already defeated the Indians while the Italians' good run at the tournament came to a humbling halt with a 12-1 defeat earlier in the weekend to the Netherlands.
Wrapped The Pool B honours had already been wrapped up by the opening wins against United States and India, which meant that only the English had anything at stake in last night's showdown.
Even then, India's draw with the US earlier in the day meant that only if the English suffered a substantial defeat could they be denied progress to the knockout phase of the elite tournament.
A rainy evening was lit up with flashes of lightning and the smiles of the eager Irish players, who presented a rousing contrast to their grim-faced hosts during the playing of the anthems.
With a majority of the 10,000 sell-out crowd rooting for them, the English did their best to wipe the grins from the faces of their opponents.
With 12 of the Olympic winning squad from Brazil 2016 in their side, they won four penalty corners in the opening 20 minutes to set the trend for the evening.
But McFerran saved one set-piece, while Shirley McCay and Yvonne O'Byrne made brave blocks at two more, and the fourth sailed harmlessly wide.
While their goalkeeper Maddie Hinch was untroubled throughout, the English had plenty of chances, with McFerran making one especially neat right foot save from Alex Danson.
The punch-bag hockey continued after the interval, as did McFerran's display of assured goalkeeping.
The Ulster net minder was especially inspired in making second-half blocks on Susannah Townsend and Sarah Haycroft.
She was given solid support from Yvonne O'Byrne, Roisin Upton and the rest of the defence, while front-runners Katie Mullan and Anna O'Flanagan did their fair share of tracking back.
Maddie Hinch in the home goal made just one save of note, a routine stop to thwart Hannah Matthews at a rare Irish corner.
Otherwise, the best Irish opportunity of an evening spent largely on the back foot was created by Megan Frazer who fired wide after making a powerful surge from midfield.
English coach Danny Kerry appealed to his players to believe in their penalty routines but they looked at best agnostic until Ansley finally delivered the goods on 53 minutes.
Even then, they had a huge slice of good fortune as McFerran appeared to have her knee high drive well covered until the ball was re-directed past her off the leg of the luckless Matthews.
Afterwards coach Shaw was delighted with the attitude of his charges in front of such a large crowd. "That was a wonderful shift in an environment we are not used to," said Shaw.
"I am disappointed to concede a goal so late but they put their bodies on the line from the start."
Ireland - A McFerran, N Evans, K Mullan, S McCay, G Pinder, R Upton, C Watkins, E Colvin, H Matthews, A O'Flanagan, Z Wilson. Subs: Y O'Byrne, M Frazer, E Tice, N Daly, D Duke, A Meeke.
England - M Hinch, L Unsworth, S Haycroft, A Toman, S Townsend, A Danson, G Ansley, S Bray, H Pearne-Webb, L Owsley, G Balsdon. Subs: K Lane, H Martin, S Petty, E Rayer, E Watton, J Hunter.