As the Men’s FIH Pro League rolled in to town one last time (before moving to the Stoop), this one had a lot of interest and intrigue building around it. Not because, coming in to the game, Great Britain need nothing less than a win to stay in contention of reaching the Grand Finals in two weeks time, nor was it due to welcoming one of the most attacking teams in the world, the Netherlands, to the Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre.
The conversation in every corner of the stands with the crowds starting to grow, was that the talismanic star Ashley Jackson was back! Pulling on the shirt of his country for the first time since the Rio Olympics Ashley said of the occasion “It’s great to be back and a part of this squad again. Lining up for the National Anthems was a little emotional but once the game started it was back to normal, we played some great hockey out there today”.
Ashley wasn’t the only returnee to the side, Scotland Captain Chris Grassick returns to the field after an 18 month layoff due to injury “After not playing for so long, you just want to enjoy it. I didn’t put any pressure on myself, just enjoy[ed] playing hockey” said Grassick.
As expected the match started with a high tempo, the Netherlands taking the lion’s share of the possession, although it was Great Britain and Chris Grassick that would come closest, firing just over just the crossbar. However, it was the Dutch who were first to make a mark on the scoreboard thanks to Jeroen Hertzberger, who deflected home from close range early in the second period.
Great Britain continued to create chances to equalise, with Ashley Jackson forcing Netherlands goalkeeper Sam van der Ven into some fine saves from penalty corner situations.
At the other end, Mirco Pruijser and Billy Bakker went close with backhand efforts before Great Britain pulled themselves level through Chris Griffiths, who fired home from a tight angle after being put through on goal thanks to a perfect pass from the quick-thinking Jackson.
Hertzberger struck again nine minutes from time with a trademark backhand strike, ruthlessly punishing Great Britain for giving away possession in their own territory. However, the hosts were awarded a penalty stroke in the final minute of the match when a pin point 50 yard aerial pass from Jackson found Forsyth on the baseline, in the area, passing to the open James Gall who was then fouled directly in front of goal. The ever reliant Alan Forsyth steps up to send Van der Ven the wrong way from the resulting Penalty Stroke to take the match into a shoot-out.
Forsyth missed Great Britain’s first attempt in the shoot-out, leaving the home favourites trailing until GB goalkeeper George Pinner did enough to deny Dutchman Jonas de Geus. Following successful attempts from David Ames (GB), Jeroen Herzberger and Seve van Ass (both NED), Great Britain captain Adam Dixon failed to convert, giving the Netherlands a bonus point that may eventually prove enough for them to secure that all-important top four finish.
Player of the Match Jearoen Hertzberger said: “We gave it away in the last minute, so that hurts a little bit. On the other hand, it is tournament hockey and there are no prizes to be dealt today. We got two points, maybe it should have been three. All in all it’s a tough game here, away against GB. We’ll take the two points and keep going.”