HIL: Punjab Warriors pip UP Wizards 1-0 but out of semis race

New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) Defending champions Jaypee Punjab Warriors edged Uttar Pradesh Wizards 1-0 but couldn’t keep themselves in contention to reach the semi-finals of the Coal India Hockey India League (HIL) at the Shivaji Stadium here on Monday.

Punjab needing a win and that too by atleast a three-goal margin to be contention but, apart from Dutchman Mink van der Weerden’s sixth penalty corner goal of the campaign, they couldn’t find any more goal, thereby bowing out before the semi-finals of the HIL for the first time.

Following the win, Punjab took their points tally to 22 but UP Wizards and Delhi Waveriders, with 23 points each, still have a game in hand to ensure their qualifications to the last four stage.

Top two placed teams Dabang Mumbai and Kalinga Lancers are already through to the semi-finals.

UP Wizards (+9 goal difference) and Delhi (+10 goal difference) also are virtually through to the knockouts as the other team in contention, Ranchi Rays’ have a poor goal difference of -5. The 2015 champions have 18 points from nine games and they face Delhi on Tuesday.

For Punjab, the campaign is over for one of the most successful sides in the HIL. On the final day they ended a four-game losing streak but it wasn’t enough.

The Barry Dancer-coached side made its intentions clear from the push-back. Their high pressing pushed UP Wizards in their own half, forcing all of them of defend and wait to hit on the break.

Captain Sardar Singh showed his classical dribbling skills as he avoided three defenders on a solo run but his shot went inches away from the right post after a foot touch UP Wizards goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh in the fifth minute.

Punjab’s Dutch set-piece specialist Mink van der Weerden too a chance each in the first and second quarter. While the first one was not stopped properly, the second flick was blocked by Florent van Aubel, who was guarding the right post.

UP Wizards came on to their own in the second quarter. They had several chances, including a penalty corner which bounced awkwardly for the stopper to trap. A quick counter-attack saw Eddie Ockenden playing a pass to the right near the halfline to van Aubel and the Belgian ran around 30 yards before attempting from a tight angle which was dismissed by Tristian Clemons.

Clemons then denied Vikas Pillay from the close range. Veteran Australian defender Mark Knowles came to Clemons’ rescue with a diving tackle on P.R. Aiyappa at the right post in the 28th minute.

Punjab continued to press high and found the lead in the 35th minute as van der Weerden fired a grounder which went in, beating the outstretched left foot of Sreejesh.

Sreejesh’s counterpart Clemons was again asked to put away a counter-attacking danger from Akashdeep Singh in the 55th minute.

The missed chance left Punjab with a slim hope but Mirco Pruyser and Jake Whetton’s hard work up front couldn’t change the scoreline as UP Wizards defended strongly to take a point with a 0-1 defeat.

–IANS

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