Widley ace praised after GB fight back

Great Britain skipper Barry Middleton was full of praise for Widley's Richard Smith
Great Britain skipper Barry Middleton was full of praise for Widley's Richard Smith
Matt Cox scored for Havant. Picture: Keith Woodland

Havant give leaders Exeter a big scare

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Skipper Barry Middleton lauded Richard Smith’s vital role in boosting Team GB’s hopes of reaching the semi-finals of the men’s hockey.

With the home side in deep trouble at 2-1 down against South Africa with two minutes remaining, Widley’s Smith struck the ball forwards, finding the net via a deflection.

The goal was credited to Ashley Jackson but it was a highly-controversial ending, with television replays showing it struck the foot of an opposition defender, which would normally result in a penalty corner.

The visitors had used their final referral and had to wait for the umpire’s ruling, which eventually came in favour of a GB leveller.

Defeat would have been harsh on the home side as they led for much of the contest, before two quick goals saw them behind.

Middleton, earning his 100th cap for GB, felt the role of defender Smith, a former Purbrook Park School pupil, was key in the recovery.

The GB skipper said: ‘Smudge (Smith) played a big part in the fight back there at the end as he got the ball into the area.

‘He always gives us a solid base to work from and plays the ball out of defence, giving us attacking options.’

Early on, Middleton spurned a chance to crown his century in style when he fired wide from a glorious position.

But Team GB hit the front on 14 minutes. Jackson fired high into the net after his mesmerising run ripped through South Africa.

Soon after, Jackson was inches away from a repeat, with his fierce drive flying over the top.

Right on the stroke of half-time, Smith diverted the ball away as South Africa – the lowest-ranked team in the tournament – threatened to snatch an undeserved leveller.

After the break, GB lacked the fluency of their first-half display and South Africa scored through Austin Smith, with GB’s Smith off the field and powerless to stop them.

Then, Jonathan Robinson’s stunning strike made it 2-1 to the visitors.

But with just over two minutes to play, Smith, back on the pitch, led the recovery.

His blockbuster strike from long distance was deflected home.

Confusion followed until the officials finally ratified the goal, to the delight of the home crowd and the relief of Team GB.

They now have four points from their first two group matches, with Pakistan next up tomorrow (4pm).