In Sunday’s match # 19 & 20 of 2015 Hero Hockey India League, the home teams won their matches against visitors. In Ranchi, Captain Ashley Jackson led his team through an improvised penalty-corner strike as Ranchi Rays defeated Uttar Pradesh Wizards 1-0. With this victory Ranchi Rays have consolidated their position and their semifinal chances have brightened. In the other match played at Mumbai’s Mahindra Stadium, Dabang Mumbai finally scored their first victory by overcoming Kalinga Lancers 2-1. In a must-win situation for staying in the League, the Mumbai team held their nerves and bagged 5 points. Though DM are at fifth spot, they have 12 points from 6 matches to Delhi Waveriders 15 with the same number of matches. If they could pull off a couple of more victories in their remaining 4 league matches, DM could replace DW for a spot in the semifinals.
In Ranchi, the visitors UP Wizards began well but despite 70% ball possession in first quarter, they couldn’t penetrate the Ranchi defense solidly manned by Kothajit Singh and Birendra Lakra. Earlier this week, RR had scored a 2-0 away victory against UPW in Lucknow but on Sunday the Wizards, did not allow any potential opportunity to the host at least in the first quarter through their deft passing and ball control. The tempo of the match changed in the second quarter as RR mounted a few raids at the UPW goal. These efforts paid off in the 18th minute, when they earned a penalty corner following a smart piece of counter-attack. Versatile Englishman Ashley Jackson was involved all the way by first producing a long scoop that found another Englishman Barry Middleton reaching the precise spot on the left wing. Middleton watched carefully and just as he saw Mandeep Singh moving inside the circle, he deftly sent a back flick to the Indian star. Mandeep was obstructed and RR earned the penalty corner. It was an opportunity RR would not let slip by and once again it was Ashley Jackson, who played his part. Knowing that India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh was not easy to be scored against in normal course, Jackson refrained from the first-time strike, when he received the penalty-ball on top of the D. Instead, Jackson moved a few step square and found the right angle while everyone expected a massive hit. But Jackson was cool as he finished with an inside-out shot to fox Sreejesh as RR went in front.
The third quarter was fought intensely as UPW did their best to find an equalizer. Forcing the play in RR’s half, the Wizards succeeded in earning their second penalty
corner in the match. However the opportunity could not be used effectively. RR held their ground in fourth quarter through impeccable defense. In 42nd minute, UPW came tantalizing close to scoring, when UPW’s Dutch forward Jeroen Hertzberger scooped the ball that beat RR’s Australian goalkeeper Tyler Lovell. But the ever alert Kothajit showed great presence of mind as he cleared the ball from the goal-line. All through the match, RR defenders kept foiling attempts on their goal by UPW forwards as the game ended 1-0 in Ranchi’s favor.
In the second match on Sunday, hosts Mumbai scored their first victory in 2015 Hockey India League by beating Kalinga Lancers 2-1. Until yesterday, Dabang Mumbai had only two drawn games to show for their participation and they badly needed a win to keep their semifinal hopes alive. The two sides played workmanlike hockey and the match did not rise to any spectacular level. In the first quarter, Kalinga Lancers looked like gaining an upper hand but Mumbai fortified their defense and stopped KL forwards short. Mumbai also ran into the KL goal-mouth and even earned two penalty corners but both chances were wasted. Mumbai went into the lead within three minutes from the start of the second quarter, when they earned the third penalty corner and converted it. The initial strike from Harmanpreet was blocked by KL goalkeeper Andrew Charter but the ever alert Australian Hayward scooped the rebound into the goal. Having been stung by DM, visitors mounted a series of raids on Mumbai goal and even succeeded in earning three penalty corners but they couldn’t convert any and second quarter ended at 1-0 for DM.
The third quarter was the most active period of the match. In the 42nd minute, Mumbai scored their second goal, when Harmanpreet made no mistake with his drag flick off another penalty corner. Within no time, KL reduced the deficit to 2-1, when Mohd Amir Khan scored a field goal by smartly deflecting the ball past the DM goalkeeper. Two goals in quick succession brought new life to the match. KL tried to level up while DM wanted the lead enhanced. However, the third quarter ended 2-1 in DM’s favor. The quick-paced tempo continued in fourth quarter but no goals accrued from either side. The match ended with Dabang Mumbai scoring their maiden win. The 5 points earned from this victory gave new hopes to Dabang Mumbai for making it to the semifinals.