THE BANGALORE Hi-Fliers are still flying high. But their bumpy ride into the final of the fourth edition of the Premier Hockey League (PHL) on Saturday would have given a heart attack to many of their fans.
The Hi-Fliers came back from a two-goal deficit twice, once in regulation play and then in the shoot-out, to edge out defending champions Orissa Steelers 5-4. Sandeep Michael converted the all-important fifth stroke to send the Bangalore outfit into a summit clash against local favourites Chandigarh Dynamos.
The Dynamos outlasted Hyderabad Sultans 5-3 via a shoot-out after both teams remained locked 1-1 at the end of the extra-time following 70 minutes of insipid and poor hockey in which they remained goalless.
In the shoot-out, the experienced Dynamos players beat Sultan's Dutch goalkeeper Oscar Ter Weeme four times to seal the issue and set up a repeat of the 2nd PHL final at the same venue two years back.
The Dynamos now has the chance of avenging their defeat to the Bangalore outfit in the 2006 final.
The Hi-Fliers were clearly lucky to be in the final as they had slumped to 2-0 deficit in the first quarter itself. Mercurial forward Sunil Ekka scored both the goals, first off a penalty corner rebound in the 11th minute and then off a superb run from outside the circle in the 16th. He dodged two defenders and beat Hi-Fliers' goalkeeper Bharath Chetri with a powerful reverse hit.
However, the Hi-Fliers fought back bravely thanks to two short corner conversions by seasoned drag flicker Len Aiyappa, who capitalised on two of the three penalty corners earned by his team. Aiyappa scored in the 23rd and 62nd minutes to keep his team in contention.
Flirting with fortune, the Bangalore team conceded the initiative again in the shoot-out as skipper Tushar Khandekar and Dutch Sebastian Westerhouf failed to beat Oscar Ter Weeme in the Orissa goal. But the Steelers once against failed to capitalize on the advantage as South Korean Kim Chul and William Xalxo shot out. Arjun Halappa, Vikram Kanth and Sandeep Michael did not make the same mistake and converted their strokes to take their team into the final.
The Dynamos too had lady luck to thank as Deepak Thakur deflected in a long free-hit by Sandeep Singh to score in the 75th minute, at the death of the first half of the extra-time. That goal negated Diwakar Ram's penalty corner two minutes ago. They then went on to convert four out of their five chances in the shoot out through Rajpal Singh, Thakur, Ravi Pal and Gaurav Tokhi while Prabhjot Singh missed. For the Sultans, skipper Sardara, and Bikas Toppo failed to convert while Deedar and Pramod Kumar were successful.
Chandigarh Dynamos 5 (Deepak Thakur 75th min; Rajpal Singh, Thakur,
Ravi Pal, Gaurav Tokhi) bt Hyderabad Sultans 3 (Diwakar Ram 73rd min;
Deedar Singh, Pramod Kumar).
Bangalore Hi-Fliers 5 (Len Aiyappa 23rd, 62nd; Arjun Halappa, Vikram
Kanth, Sandeep Michael) bt Orissa Steelers 4 (Sunil Ekka 11th min,
16th min; Prabodh Tirkey, Roshan Minz).