A heavily-deflected Giselle Ansley goal took some of the wind out of the Irish women’s sails but the upshot of their 1-0 loss to England at Lee Valley has probably provided the perfect scenario for Thursday’s World Cup quarter-final.
The upshot is a tie against either Italy — the only lower ranked side — and India who Graham Shaw’s side beat last week.
In addition, they have avoided all of the world’s top six, representing an amazing opportunity of reaching a semi-final.
Despite the setback against the hosts, Shaw took the positives from a big defensive effort as his side survived a battery of 31 shots and 14 out of 15 penalty corners before the late goal went in off Hannah Matthews’ knee.
The English, a full-time outfit with eight Olympic gold medalists, came into the tie requiring a result after two draws and always had a greater need compared to the Irish who already had their quarter-final spot secured.
“It was a difficult game,” Shaw admitted. “They obviously put us on the back foot for long phases but we defended brilliantly.
"Ideally, we shouldn’t give away as many penalty corners but I cannot fault the effort and the commitment. They put in an incredible shift.”
Despite the rain this was, by some distance the largest crowd the Irish side have ever played in front of with over 10,000 in the Lee Valley Stadium.
And, like the first three ties, they soaked in each moment of the pre-match ceremony, smiles beaming out on the big screens in the eyeline of their opposition.
Shaw had run training sessions in the lead-up with two loudspeakers of conflicting music to try and replicate such conditions on the field, aiming to develop physical communication signals.
He admitted, though, that the reality was a different matter with players admitting how difficult it was to get their tactical messages heard.
The English made the more offensive start, controlling the first 20 minutes. Alex Danson tested Ayeisha McFerran’s resolve in the fifth minute, a warning shot before a huge chance soon after.
Again, Danson — who equalled England’s all-time scoring record earlier this week — was the shooter and while she beat McFerran, Lena Tice was covering on the line.
Her block fell perfectly for Ellie Watton but she could only plant her shot into the boot of the scrambling McFerran.
The hosts ran up four penalty corners, too, but have really struggled from the set piece in this tournament, netting just once from 12 attempts before this tie.
Anna O’Flanagan, Yvonne O’Byrne and Shirley McCay all put in blocks to keep the scoreboard blank.
After that first flurry, Ireland steadied, controlling the ball better. And while no circle entries of note were forthcoming, O’Flanagan’s driving run almost unlocked the door but for a Laura Unsworth wonder tackle.
There were more panic stations in the third quarter, particularly when Sarah Haycroft nicked the ball off Zoe Wilson just out from goal but McFerran produced more wonders.
Ireland came out of their shell, spurred by Megan Frazer’s driving run. They had a flurry of three penalty corners, too, with Maddie Hinch logging her body well to keep out Hannah Matthews.
That volley was countered by five English corners but each time O’Byrne or Katie Mullan was in the way.
The luck could not hold, however, and the fortuitous English goal eventually came with seven minutes left from their 14th penalty corner.
Ansley’s shot was slightly off target but took a wicked deflection off Hannah Matthews to wrong-foot McFerran to hit the backboard.
It leaves no lasting damage, though, with Ireland top of Pool B and a favourable tie in the offing once India and Italy complete their crossover game.
“Before the tournament you definitely would have taken either of them [as an opponent],” Shaw said.
“We don’t look on it as easier opposition and we look at them as a different challenge. They will be really dangerous; we start preparation on both teams now.”
M Hinch, L Unsworth, S Haycroft, A Toman, S Townsend, A Danson, G Ansley, S Bray, H Pearne-Webb, L Owsley, G Balsdon.
K Lane, H Martin, S Petty, E Rayer, E Watton, J Hunter, A Tennant.
A McFerran, N Evans, K Mullan, S McCay, G Pinder, R Upton, C Watkins, L Colvin, H Matthews, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson.
Y O’Byrne, M Frazer, L Tice, N Daly, D Duke, A Meeke, G O’Flanagan
L Delforge, I Presenqui