Ireland 3 (Cliodhna Sargent, Nikki Evans, Miriam Crowley) Belgium 1 (Valerie Vermeersch)
Ireland again showed an enterprising spirit as they swept by Belgium for a second day running at the National Hockey Stadium as both sides continue with experimental sides.
Emma Clarke returned to the side, coming in for Anna O’Flanagan in the match day 16, for her 99th cap but eight of the squad would be considered as relative newcomers to the setup.
Belgium, meanwhile, are using a similarly mixed panel with eight of their central panel not travelling while none of their U-21 European B division winning side have been incorporated but will be tried out in an upcoming series with Scotland.
Lining up with a four-two-four formation, Ireland showed their attacking intentions from the start with Clarke finding a foot inside three minutes to win the days first corner.
Michelle Harvey’s drag was blocked but it showed the hosts intent. Nikki Evans again provided the spark going forward, powering through three tackled down the left wing before zipping across a dangerous reverse-stick cross.
Soon after, Nicci Daly was put through one-on-one by a simple crash ball from Cliodhna Sargent through the centre of the Belgian defence but was unable to ever truly control and the chance drifted over the endline.
The visitors were living on borrowed time at this stage and the breakthrough came in the 11th minute from Ireland’s second corner. Cliodhna Sargent’s first dig rebounded straight back to her at the top of the circle and while her shot might have been thundering wide, the post-woman’s stick turned it over the line.
Chances continued to flow as Shirley McCay’s shot was deflected wide while Niamh Atcheler’s cross wreaked havoc, Achten forced to make a double save from Daly and Miriam Crowley.
And Evans doubled the lead – her third goal in two games – in the 25th minute from a neatly worked free. Lizzie Colvin’s pass into the circle seem to vex the Belgian defence, two players leaving the ball, allowing Chloe Watkins time and space in the circle to steady herself and pick out Evans at the back post to prod home from a yard.
Belgium made just two circle incursions in the first half, neither drawing a shot in anger, but they did bounce back after the break. At the height of their purple patch, they pulled a goal back through Valeire Vermeersch in the 42nd minute from their third short corner.
It was a soft concession as Ireland did not utilise any top-circle runners and the defender ambled four yards into the circle unopposed and crisply hit the backboard.
But the tie was settled six minutes later by the goal of the game in brilliant fashion. Michelle Harvey’s ball down the right sideline gave Alex Speers plenty of space to run into and she controlled perfectly on her reverse before sweeping a fine cross for Miriam Crowley to guide home expertly on her reverse.
After that, there was little to write home about bar a last minute scuffle which saw McCay and Jill Boon sin-binned. The latter reacted angrily after taking a stray stick to the head after an awkward tackle and the aftermath saw both yellow-carded.
Nonetheless, it was a second strong showing and a potential whitewash is on the cards tomorrow afternoon at 12pm at Belfield in the final match of the series.
Ireland: E Gray, M Harvey, C Sargent, C Watkins, E Clarke, A Speers (capt), A O’Flynn, S McCarthy, L Colvin, N Evans, N Daly Subs: J McDonnell, N Atcheler, M Crowley, K McConnell, S McCay
Belgium: E Achten, J Jouret, M Vouche, A Raes, V Vermeersch, L Danhaive, G Valcke, E Sinia, C Himpe, B Nelen, J Boon Subs: L Delmulle, O Bouche, C Guisset, J Scraeyen, H Delmee