Despite being a bit cautious in their approach, Orissa Steelers made the most of their chances to beat Maratha Warriors 2-0 and top the table as the first leg of the third edition of the Premier Hockey League concluded in Chennai on Sunday.
After a barren first quarter, forward Damandeep Singh scored twice for the Steelers off swift counter-attacks by the Steelers that caught the strong Maratha Warrior's defence struggling for breath.
With this win the Steelers moved to 14 points tied at the top spot with Sher-E-Jalandhar, who defeated hosts Chennai Veerans 2-1 in the first match of the day.
However, the Steelers top the table having won more matches then the Shers. The Bangalore Lions are at second point with nine points while Warriors, Veerans and Chandigarh Dynamos are tied at seven points, the Warriors placed fourth having won three matches in extra-time.
By winning their respective match on Sunday, the Steelers and Shers have opened a five points lead at the top, turning PHL III into a two horse race unless the other teams pull up their socks and cause some upsets in the second leg starting on February 11 in Chandigarh.
The Warriors had the best chance of shocking the leaders today and open up the race for the title. But without Dhananjay Mahadik, their midfield didn?t had the bite that had stung some of the teams in the previous matches while the forwards once again failed to create much chances.
Though they did manage to hold the Steelers goalless till the 33rd minute, the Warriors didn't look as strong as they had looked against better teams like Bangalore Lions and Sher-E-Jalandhar in earlier matches.
With Pakistani midfielder Adnan Zakir controlling the midfield Steelers held sway and managed to translate their superiority into goals on two occasions. They created the first chance in the 5th minute itself but Roshan Minz was thwarted by D?Souza.
Warriors too had their chance when Bharath Chikara took a poor shot at the goal which was easily kicked away by Salman Akbar. With both teams playing aimless hockey, standard of play deteriorated after that before Damandeep broke the stalemate.
Prabodh Tirkey ran to the touchline and sent in a good ball into the circle and Damandeep deflected it over D?Souza?s shoulder into the far corner of the net. D'Souza kept his team in the hunt when he pawed Tjeerd Steller's superb drag flick onto the crossbar.
But with the defenders proving slow, Steelers sealed the issue when off a swift counter-attack, Adnan Zakir put Sunil Ekka in the clear in the left flank and he sent in a measured past for Damandeep to effect a diving deflection to double the Steelers? account.
Sher-E-Jalandhar 2 (Jarnail Singh 30th min; Gagan Ajit Singh 55th min) bt Chennai Veerans 1 (Somanna 61st min).
Orissa Steelers 2 (Damandeep Singh 33rd min; 58th min) bt Maratha Warriors 0.