Missed chances in the first half cost the South Africa men’s hockey team dearly as Malaysia scored 30 seconds from half-time (35th minute) through a clinical finish by Marhan Jalil to take a 1-0 lead into the second half at the University of North West Hockey Centre in Potchefstroom Thursday, but goals in the 59th minute by Wade Paton and the winner 17 seconds from the end (70th minute) by his younger brother Taine Paton earned SA a thrilling victory in the first of the four-Test series.
SA deserved the win as they won six penalty corner to two against and got in more goal shots from field play, but on another day the spoils could have gone Malaysia’s way. Both goalkeepers were superb, with Rassie Pieterse in particular keeping his side in the game at key moments.
The pulsating encounter makes the second and third Test matches both at 3 pm on Saturday and Sunday at the same venue, an enticing prospect.
After early Malaysian possession, Julian Hykes won a turnover 30 metres out and fed Craig Haley, the SA striker getting in a backhand shot that keeper Rozlan Jamaluddin parried away.
Then in the right-hand corner, attacking halfback Lance Louw took a self-pass free-hit and slipped the ball to striker Miguel da Graca, who won a penalty corner – Jonty Robinson injected the set-piece, Tim Drummond trapped the ball and captain Austin Smith’s low drag-flick whistled past the near post.
Two minutes later, in the seventh, Clint Panther layed off a great square pass to Jonty Robinson who had time, but fired his shot past the far post. At the other end Malaysia’s first foray into the strike zone was cleared by defender Francois Pretorius.
The pace settled somewhat and Malaysia made another inroad into the danger zone before a midfield tussle for possession ensued over the next 15 minutes.
Into the second quarter, two superb moments of individual flair by Hykes led to another Robinson pressure shot that the keeper blocked successfully before SA stopper Pieterse cut off the danger at the opposite end.
The tide began to turn a little as Malaysia found their feet leading towards half-time but SA debutant Taylor Dart made a confident start, while striker Pierre de Voux was only thwarted by a superb tackle before Abdul Sukri made an electrifying burst down the left wing that SA did well to stop.
With 30 seconds left Pieterse blocked Nabil Fitri’s shot from close but it was desperate for SA after all their good work as Jalil buried the rebound into the backboard for 1-0 at half-time.
SA started the second half same as the first and Da Graca’s lunging effort was followed by a vociferous appeal for a goal before SA’s second PC saw the ball slipped left to Wade Paton but keeper Jamaluddin had its measure.
SA continued to stretch the Malaysians to breaking point and Da Graca twice came agonisingly close before Pretorius suffered the same fate, while Hykes appealed in vain for a PC after another great ball by Panther. Malaysia hit back when Izwan Firrdavs and Azami Adabi combined superbly only for Pieterse to save and Smith to clear as the high pace of the game took on new meaning.
Midway through the second half Faizal Saari and then Sukri fired Malaysia’s first two PC’s at Pieterse who saved brilliantly with glove and then stick while postman Jethro Eustice also did a superb job.
Da Graca again came within a whisker as Jamaluddin got in the way before SA won their fourth PC with 11 minutes left on the clock (59th) and this time Wade Paton on the slip-pass left was not to be denied (1-1).
SA came straight back and the on-fire Hykes duped the Malaysian defence with pace and ball control to win his team’s fifth PC, which led to a sixth – but Smith’s drag-flick off the top of the castle again whistled past the post, this time with height.
With three minutes left (67th) Malaysia won their second PC but SA first-wave defender Jonty Robinson got out of the starting blocks fast enough to deflect the rocket shot away from danger. SA broke out of defence and Taine Paton nailed the winner with 17 seconds to full-time for South Africa’s memorable 2-1 victory.
The second Test is at 3 pm Saturday with the third Test at 3 pm Sunday, both at UNW, while the fourth and final Test is at 7 pm at Randburg on Tuesday.