An excellent defensive display at Wembley Arena saw England take a 46-38 win over Jamaica on Saturday night. Spearheaded by Player of the Match Geva Mentor at GK and Eboni Beckford-Chambers at GD, the defence stood firm in the face of a fierce Sunshine Girls attack as Anna Mayes’ side started their ZEO International Series campaign with victory.
The visitors opened the scoring with their first centre-pass before a piece of fine work in the final third saw Sasha Corbin feed Jo Harten to level scores early on. Fabulous defensive pressure forced Jhaniele Fowler to throw away possession when off balance and this set the tone. Moments later Mentor leapt to take a wonderful tip with Beckford-Chambers completing the turnover.
A couple of missed opportunities in the shooting circle allowed the Caribbean side to remain close with Fowler showcasing her trademark split to gain space and score under the post. The height that the Jamaican shooter possesses was causing trouble for England as when she did miss, rebounds were proving tricky to grab away from Fowler’s grasp. At the end of the opening quarter the visitors had moved into a 10-7 lead.
There was one change for the start of the second quarter as Jamaica replaced Nadine Bryan with Patricia McCalla at WA. The opening exchanges between the two sides set the tone up until the interval with both teams struggling to work the ball through court and to goal. England were starting to claw back the deficit though and midway through the quarter had drawn level.
The crowd were now in full voice and urging the home side forward, a wonderfully spotted feed by Serena Guthrie allowed Pamela Cookey to convert from close range. With the balance of power shifting, Jade Clarke stamped her mark with a brilliant intercept from a Jamaica centre-pass to get the team in red flooding forward again.
It wasn’t plain sailing though and although England had edged ahead, a couple of missed attempts in the circle allowed the Sunshine Girls to very much remain in touch. Mentor continued to impress in defence as her pressure forced turnover ball which resulted in Harten scoring with aplomb. At half-time the hosts had edged into a 20-19 advantage.
After the interval, Stacey Francis and Kadeen Corbin were introduced at WD and GA respectively for England. The latter scoring with her first attempt as the home side went on a run of four unopposed goals to move into a strong lead. Once again Beckford-Chambers was combining brilliantly with Mentor, not only in claiming tips and intercepts but also in applying pressure to force Jamaican errors.
A new combination and style was to tackle the miserly home defence as Thristina Harwood replaced Fowler for the visitors. England were comfortably holding onto their lead but not pulling further away as the sides continued to trade scores and turnovers.
There were still more than enough glimpses of class from Mayes’s team though, with one particular move featuring a crisp and incisive pass from Francis, picking out the younger Corbin sister to feed Harten under the post, the sharp shooter was not going to miss out. With the crowd screaming their support as the quarter came to the end, a clever switch in defence from Mentor and Beckford-Chambers bamboozled the Caribbean side and allowed England to take a 32-27 lead into the final quarter.
Another new attacking combination was seen in the last fifteen minutes as Cookey was brought back onto court, this time at WA. With the winning line in sight, England stepped up the tempo early on and for the second time in the match managed to go on a four-goal streak to effectively end the game as a contest.
In the shooting circle, Corbin was looking composed and assured, one long range attempt had the boisterous crowd on their feet and roaring with delight. The Sunshine Girls continued to provide a spirited display but with the home team only giving scraps for the attacking contingent to feed on, they were kept at bay as England eased to the win.
With New Zealand coming up on Monday at the Copper Box in the Tri-Series decider, England will be hoping to increase the accuracy in the final third to match the excellent defensive display. If they can achieve this, England will have a great chance of continuing the amazing run they are currently on.
England starting 7: GS - Harten, GA - Cookey, WA - S.Corbin, C - Guthrie, WD - Clarke, GD - Beckford-Chambers, GK – Mentor
Jamaica starting 7: GS - Fowler, GA - Beckford, WA - Bryan, C - Williams, WD - Thompson, GD - Facey, GK – Kelly
Umpires: Sharon Kelly and Josh Bowring with Michelle Phippard as reserve.
For more information on the Tri-Series, visit www.englandnetball.co.uk