Hockey: Black Sticks sign off with win

By Kris Shannon

The New Zealand men's hockey team found consolation at the conclusion of an underwhelming Champions Trophy campaign, defeating England in golden goal extra time today to avoid last place.

With the score deadlocked at 2-2 at the end of regulation in Melbourne, Nick Wilson delivered the winning blow by deflecting a penalty corner strike from Shea McAleese.

It was a deserved victory in the final classification game for the Black Sticks who, despite their disappointing seventh-place finish, will take heart from their performances while blooding a new breed of youngsters.

With coach Colin Batch still in his first month in the job and several senior players unavailable, New Zealand were always up against it in this tournament.

While today's win was their first, they twice competed well against world No 1 Germany and also pushed the Netherlands, playing Australia for gold later today, in their quarter-final.

Throughout the tournament the Black Sticks have gradually improved, with the younger players beginning to combine well with more experienced members of the squad.

"There's no doubt we've got some players of the future and giving them exposure in a tour situation is very important," Batch said.

"We've grown a lot throughout the tournament and, while we've had some disappointment, we're showing some positive signs for the future."

Yesterday's (Sat) disappointing 6-4 loss to Germany, a game the Black Sticks led 2-0 at halftime, ensured New Zealand would finish outside the top five and miss out on automatic qualification for the next edition of the tournament. But Batch was impressed with his side's resilience in regrouping from the defeat to sign off with a win.

"No matter where you finish in a tournament it's important to finish with a win and we're very pleased to do that," Batch said. "We learnt some lessons from yesterday against Germany and full credit to the players and the way they played and finished the match today."

It was a frustrating first half for the Black Sticks, who again created a huge number of scoring opportunities but could convert only one. Striker Stephen Jenness gave the Black Sticks the lead after Phil Burrows pounced on a poor England back pass and delivered the ball into the circle.

But the English struck back late in the period with Darren Cheesman turning out two defenders to shoot past Devon Manchester in goal. The Black Sticks continued to create chances in the second spell but, with 15 minutes remaining, the English broke the deadlock.

The deficit provided a spark for the Kiwis, with much greater urgency building into a vicious reverse shot from Nick Wilson from the top of the circle to level the score.

With neither side able to capitalise in the final minutes, the game moved into the first golden goal extra time of the tournament. The Black Sticks were to side to step up their game and, after winning a penalty corner, Wilson connected with his second goal to seal victory.

New Zealand 3 (Stephen Jenness, Nick Wilson 2)

England 2 (Darren Cheesman, Barry Middleton)

HT: 1-1

- APNZ

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