The Maratha Warriors looked jaded and understandably so — they were playing their fourth match in five days. However, the fighting spirit was intact as they stretched their opponents to the limit, despite playing well only in patches, before going down by an odd goal in three to Hyderabad Sultans at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium here on Tuesday.
Pakistan was the flavour of the day with prolific striker Shakeel Abbasi and Imran Warsi sharing the three goals. The former slotted home both the goals for the Sultans off well-crafted attacks for their first win the event after two successive defeats. Abbasi was also deservedly named the man of the match.
They now have three points from as many matches while the Warriors have five points from four games, having won twice in extra-time and losing once before this match.
The Mumbai team was tired as all three of their previous matches had gone into the extra time, virtually playing over six hours in their three matches. Sher-e-Jalandhar lead the table with seven points from two wins and one extra-time defeat.
On Tuesday, things didn’t go as planned for the Warriors. The midfield failed to support the forwards as it had done in the previous matches. They could not rotate the ball in the midfield as they usually do and the deep defenders, Ajmer Singh and Imran Warsi, too were error-prone.
The Hyderabad half-line of Vikram Pillay, Tariq Aziz, Sardara Singh, Nitin Kumar and Ajitesh Rai soon took control of the match and kept a steady supply to the forwards. Aziz, especially, was the pick of the players, as he controlled the game beautifully and hardly gave room to the Maratha midfield to take charge.
Hyderabad could have won by more than half a dozen goals but for the heroics of Maratha Warriors goalkeeper Adrian D’Souza, who pulled off at least six superb saves, depriving Sardara, Abassi, Didar and Rai of what looked sure goals.
Though the two teams started tentatively, it was the Sultans who got the first chance when Abbasi put Sardara in the clear, but Adrian game to the rescue of his team. He then repeatedly thwarted Abbasi and Rai in the first quarter but luck finally ran out for the Marathas in the 30th minute, when Abbasi capitalised on a pass by Tariq Aziz to beat Adrian for Sultan’s first goal.
On the other end, Bharat Chikara had a golden chance to equalise but failed to make the most of a superb pass by Shivinder Singh.
In the second half, Ajitesh made a fine run from the deep in his own half, dodged three defenders and sent a pass to Didar, who, with only D’Souza to beat, shot wide of the mark. The Warriors then made it 1-1 off their second short corner in the 54th minute, Warsi blasting home a superb drag-flick. They could have made it 2-1 but Hemant Gethe failed to capitalise on a fine run, again by Shivinder.
The Sultans earned two short corners in succession and scored off the second, a horrendous and unnecessary clearance by Gurbaj Singh. They kept the ball in play after another of D’Souza’s stops.
From the far corner Didar Singh and sent the ball to Tariq Aziz inside the shooting circle. D’Souza rushed out to narrow the angle but Ali managed to caught the entire defence to send the ball to Abbasi, who tapped into an empty goal to seal victory for Sultans.