Ipswich 3 Whitchurch 2

Slazenger EHL South Division Ipswich 3 Whitchurch 2Goalkeeper Ned Martin produced a stunning 68th minute penalty save to become the Ipswich hero and secure a vital win over Cardiff-based Whitchurch at Tuddenham Road on Sunday.

Slazenger EHL

South Division

Ipswich 3 Whitchurch 2

Goalkeeper Ned Martin produced a stunning 68th minute penalty save to become the Ipswich hero and secure a vital win over Cardiff-based Whitchurch at Tuddenham Road on Sunday.

The Australian guessed the right way, and deflected the effort from Wales international Jamie Westerman around his right post, delighting the home supporters.

Before the game, coach Ian Gall told his team that, despite their opponents being below them in the league, the match would be hard fought and could go down to the wire.

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With that in mind, Ipswich needed a good start, and they got it in the first minute through captain Ivan Smith, whose shot found the corner after good play down the left from Phil Messent.

Whitchurch soon found their way back into the match, when Laith El Khatib drag flicked a ferocious penalty corner, which gave Martin little chance of saving.

Ipswich's own penalty corner star, Keir Dixon, was given his chance to shine just a few minutes later, but Chris Gierak produced an incredible save with his stick just as the ball seemed to be sailing into the top corner.

In the 25th minute, disaster struck for Ipswich when, following a breakdown in communication between centre backs Asif Rais and Mark Wheelhouse, Joe Naughalty fired into the circle with pin-point accuracy for Mark Whatling who casually deflected into the goal.

The Ipswich players came off the field at half time looking immensely disappointed with themselves, but coach Gall found the words of inspiration and guidance that his players needed to hear and the team started the second half believing that the game was far from over.

Ipswich won three penalty corners, but the Whitchurch defence was proving to be a tough nut to crack and brilliantly defended the flicked efforts from Dixon.

Eventually, Ipswich found their equaliser, with Dixon finally getting the better of the Whitchurch keeper to find the bottom right corner.

In the 57th minute, Richard Rutterford, who had caused problems for the Whitchurch defence all game, had an excellent chance with just the keeper to beat, but he dragged his shot just wide of the target.

Eventually though, Ipswich scored what proved to be the decisive goal. In the 65th minute, left midfielder Rich Stainthorpe intercepted a loose pass from a Whitchurch defender, before a string of passes found Will Hearne left of goal.

Instead of crossing, Hearne caught everyone by surprise with a fierce shot that hit the post from a tight angle, only for Dixon to force the ball over the line for a 3-2 lead.

It was no more than the team deserved but, despite there being only five minutes left of the match, there was still time for more drama.

In the 68th minute, Wheelhouse, who along with Rais, Matt Stainthorpe and Dixon had been terrific in defence throughout this match, lost control of the ball, giving Whitchurch striker Mark Whatling a clear run on goal.

Martin raced out of his goal, but his tackle took both man and ball and resulted in a penalty stroke.

However, his stunning save guaranteed all three points for Ipswich and moves the team onto an impressive 18 points at the Christmas break.

Coach Gall said: “I am really pleased to have 18 points in the bag at this point. I asked my team for 15 points by Christmas when I first took over and we have gone beyond that.

“We now have to change our expectations and work towards competing with the top four teams in this league, which is something I firmly believe we are capable of if we continue to develop as we are doing.”