When the rule giving more weightage to field goals was introduced in the Hockey India League (HIL) last year, many people thought teams will use this as an advantage and the rule could affect result of a match.
Though only a few matches were affected by this rule last year, it came into play as a last-minute equaliser converted into a field goal from a penalty corner helped hosts Dabang Mumbai hold Ranchi Rays 3-3 in the inaugural match of the fifth edition of the HIL at the Mahindra Stadium in Mumbai on Saturday.
Goals by Simranjeet Singh and Christopher Ruhr had almost clinched the tie in favour of the two-time champions from Ranchi. But Nikkin Thimmaiah’s timely flick inside the D in the final minute of the game meant the teams had to be content with two points each. Earlier, drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh had pulled one back for Mumbai seven minutes into the third quarter.
Both teams made a cautious start in the first quarter although Ranchi did make a few penetrations, including one in the very first minute. Dabang Mumbai, who had started with four forwards, had a brilliant chance to take the lead but Gurjant Singh’s back-hander from inside the D was deflected out by an alert Vikramjit Singh.
Ranchi Rays started the second quarter on an attacking note and earned a penalty corner in the very first minute but a brilliant save by goalkeeper David Harte denied them. They upped the ante on Mumbai who had a difficult time to contain the likes of Ruhr and Simranjeet upfront. Florian Fuchs led the charge on the opposite end but his two back-to-back shots on goal were well kept away by Ranchi custodian Tyler Lovell. The match had opened up a bit but a green card to Manpreet followed by a yellow to Emmanuel Strockbroekx pushed the hosts on the back foot yet again.
They did manage to keep it 0-0 at the end of the first half but Ranchi Rays came roaring in in the third quarter with Simranjeet’s goal. It was a neat finish from the Junior World Cup winner, who angled it into the bottom corner.
Harmanpreet’s goal did build hopes for Mumbai, but just two minutes later, the talismanic Ruhr scored from the spot, after the initial penalty corner had resulted into a stroke, to put Ranchi ahead.
Dabang Mumbai had wasted three penalty corners in the game before a change in strategy saw the ball being dragged behind the dotted line before shooting at goal in the last minute. Given that the hosts needed a field goal to seal a draw, it was brilliantly executed much to the delight of the home crowd.
Ranchi coach Harendra Singh was happy with his team’s performance and lauded the juniors of both the squads. “The only way for Indian hockey to grow is to make these juniors use up such opportunities and make it a difficult task for coaches to select a starting line-up,” he said.