Black Sticks women confident they are headed in right direction

By David Leggat

New Zealand's Black Sticks womens team. Photo / Getty
New Zealand's Black Sticks womens team. Photo / Getty

The Black Sticks are confident they are heading in the right direction as the Rio Olympics approach, despite squandering a winning opportunity against arch rivals Australia last night.

New Zealand, ranked fourth in the women's game, were 1-0 up against the third-ranked Aussies at halftime of the four nations tournament match at Darwin, but despite having an advantage of 19 shots on goal to Australia's eight, finished up on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline.

There was much to like about the Black Sticks game, but ultimately failure to grasp a succession of good scoring chances cost dearly.

''The general consensus is we're proud of the direction we're heading, but quite disappointed to think we dominated that game and didn't come away with the win," impressive midfielder Rose Keddell said last night.

Australia's ploy of playing a striker higher up the field in the second half stretched New Zealand's defence and balanced the game up.

Goals by Georgina Morgan from a penalty corner shot, and Emily Smith, reacting quickest when a ball was played into the attacking circle for the winner, cancelled out Olivia Merry's firm penalty corner shot in the second quarter.

Midlands player Keddell was among New Zealand's best last night but she said it's not just a focus on the attacking end which is needed.

''It does go both ways. Yes it would be nice to finish with a couple more goals but we leet a couple in so defensively we've got to be better there too. As much as it's good to finish (chances) we've got to be a team that doesn't let goals in."

New Zealand play 10th-ranked Japan in their final pool game on Friday night. Win that and they're through to the final against the Aussies again on Saturday night.

Keddell ticked off the type of game New Zealand are playing, the structures and the confidence within the group as key ingredients which are falling into place.

''We've been working really hard over the last couple of months at playing well together, getting our structures going and everything is coming to fruition. In the next couple of months we really hope to consolidate everything we've worked on."

However, for all that frittering of opportunities, much of the Black Sticks' work in a rousing, full-blooded contest was impressive, notably their pressing on Australia's defence and speed attacking down the flanks.

Both teams will be strong medal contenders at the Rio Olympics. There's little between the two sides.

However Australia, clearly second best in the first half, lifted their game in the second spell, were able to find space in the New Zealand defence and it paid a dividend late on.

Attacker Sophie Cocks had two clear chances in the final minute, both stopped by smart work from Australian goalkeeper Ashleigh Wells, while Merry, Charlotte Harrison and Anita McLaren all gave Australia's defence worrying moments.

There were no beg your pardons in a rugged clash, Emily Gaddum, Ella Gunson and Kelsey Smith all crashing to the turf in bruising collisions with opponents.

Keddell, Liz Thompson, Julia King and Gaddum all got through a power of defensive work while goalkeeper Amelia Gibson made a string of quality stops.

Japan and India drew the early match last night 1-1.

- NZ Herald

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