Hosts Uttar Pradesh Wizards outplayed former champions Ranchi Rays for the first time in seven meetings when they beat them comprehensively 4-0 in the Hockey India League here on Thursday.
Before drawing the last game 0-0 at Ranchi this season, Wizards had five losses against the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-owned Ranchi Rays. Thursday’s turnaround at the Major Dhyanchand Stadium wasn’t expected by many.
But after winning 6-2 against defending champions Jaypee Punjab Warriors in their last game in Chandigarh last week, Wizards were right on target from the very start, not allowing the rivals any space inside the penalty circle.
The win helped the Suresh Raina co-owned side leap-frog to the third position with 20 points from seven games. They still have three games in hand before the knockouts and one more win can put them into the semi-finals.
Dutchman Seve Van Ass and Akshdeep Singh scored both field goals (as per rules a field goal counts for two). The tie was also a big challenge for two greats of Indian coaching --- Roelant Oltmans (UP Wizards) and Harendra Singh (Ranchi Rays) who shook hands before start of play.
Wizards could have score more had they converted two penalty corners, one each in the first two quarters but captain VR Raghunath’s hits were tackled by Rays’ custodian Tyler Lovell.
The deadlock was broken by Van Ass in the 37th minute in style. After receiving a quick pass from Edward Ockenden inside the circle, the Dutchman just pushed it to the right corner of Lovell, who was anticipating a straight hit.
The lead inspired the Wizards to press hard as they had to win to go up the points table. A couple of good saves, including one in the last quarter by Wizards custodian PR Sreejesh, helped the side deny Ranchi Rays a chance to level the score.
Tension soared in the last quarter as Ranchi Rays accelerated their game, launching a foray of attacks but good defence by the Wizards kept them at bay. Just when spectators had started celebrating the home team’s win, young Akshdeep Singh hit the back of the net by pulling a reverse hit into the left top corner of Ranchi Rays’ goal.