England just fall short in gripping Sultan Azlan Shah final

England v Australia SAS 2018 Final
Australia 2 (0)
Govers (PC, 38); Sharp (PC, 53)

England 1 (0)
Ward (FG, 54)

A wonderful late strike from Sam Ward was not enough to stop England falling to a narrow defeat to Australia in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup final.

The Beeston forward’s well taken 54th minute goal - his fifth of the tournament - set up a grandstand finish in front of a packed, noisy and colourful Malaysian crowd. 

But it was not enough to fully overturn the two goal advantage Australia had given themselves seconds before as Lachlan Sharp added to Blake Govers’ early second half effort.

Yet while it may not have been the result they wanted, the performance was certainly an encouraging one from England - ranked six places below the Australians and missing two players - as they prepare for next month’s Commonwealth Games.

Unlike England’s routing of Malaysia the day before, the final began rather sedately as both sides tried to establish an early rhythm in the stifling heat and humidity. 

The game’s first chance fell to Daniel Beale in the seventh minute, his snapshot flashing just wide of Harry Gibson’s post before the ‘keeper smothered a Govers effort after Sharp brilliantly charged down Harry Martin’s shot.

England then had the game’s first corner shortly before the end of the opening quarter but Sharp was on hand again, sprinting off the goal-line to ensure Mark Gleghorne’s flick did not trouble Tyler Lovell’s goal.

Chances were even fewer and further between in the second quarter as both teams threatened but could not break each other down, Ollie Willars and Sharp in particular putting in some crucial tackles, while a clean 21st minute strike from Ansell was well saved by Lovell’s left foot. 

The attritional pattern continued in the third quarter until Govers smashed his penalty corner into the bottom left corner after winning the set piece himself as his shot just brushed an England foot.

Bobby Crutchley’s team then enjoyed a prolonged spell of possession as they tried to force an equaliser and it almost came in the 44th minute as Chris Griffiths did well to control a terrific Mark Gleghorne pass, but his bullet strike rippled the netting on the wrong side of the post.

Australia then thought they had won the game with seven minutes left as Sharp lifted the ball over George Pinner after his deflection on a Mark Knowles corner flick was saved by the ‘keeper, but Ward rifled in a brilliant shot seconds later after a great pass by Ansell to set up a grandstand finish.

England then had to scramble to keep out Beale and Flynn Ogilvie in the 55th minute before another Gleghorne was well charged down seconds later.

And, despite England piling on the pressure in the dying moments, the Kookaburras held firm to take their 10th Sultan Azlan Shah title.

England Starting XI: Gibson (GK), Willars, Weir, Martin, Griffiths, Gleghorne, Roper, Middleton, Creed, Goofdield, Condon

Subs: Pinner (GK, C), Ward, Dixon, Ansell, Gall