Leamington’s Kelly Sibley led from the front with two victories as England came from 2-1 down to defeat Slovenia in their first home European Championships qualifying tie.
Both countries had started their campaign with 3-0 defeats to Olympic silver medallists Germany, and with Slovenia just one place above England in the team world rankings, it promised to be a thriller as they both looked to get their first win on the board.
England No 1 Sibley gave the hosts the perfect start in Gillingham with an emphatic 3-0 (11-4, 11-3, 11-3) victory over Tamara Pavcnik.
But Tin-Tin Ho was beaten 3-0 (12-10, 11-7, 11-7) by Alex Galic and Karina Le Fevre’s 3-1 (11-7, 10-12, 13-11, 11-6) defeat to Manca Fajmut meant England had to win the last two rubbers to take overall victory.
Sibley revived their prospects by beating Galic, who plays for the same club in the French league, 3-1 (9-11, 12-10, 11-7, 11-8) to level matters and it was left to Ho to defeat Pavcnik in four sets (6-11, 11-2, 11-5, 12-10) to bring a vociferous home crowd to its feet.
Afterwards, Sibley said: “It was absolutely fantastic. We knew it was going to be very tight and it proved that way and went down to the wire. When it got tight and we needed to step up, we all did it really well.
“We all had chances in the games we lost, we weren’t outplayed at all and we showed we’ve got great team spirit. I’m very proud of the team for getting over the line together.
“On a personal note, I’m very pleased with my own performance. Against Alex Galic, we play at the same club and I knew it was going to be tight but I thought I handled it well and the home crowd got me through when I was struggling.”
England’s next match is at home to Germany in Preston on December 13. Where they finish in the group will determine which division they play in at next year’s championships.