HIL: Race to semis open after Uttar Pradesh Wizards win

Uttar Pradesh Wizards won its second game of the competition to stay in the race for a knockout spot with a comprehensive 6-2 victory against Jaypee Punjab warriors here on Monday.

Akashdeep Singh and Ajay Yadav of Uttar Pradesh Wizards scored one goal each against Punjab Warriors.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

Uttar Pradesh Wizards won its second game of the competition to stay in the race for a knockout spot with a comprehensive 6-2 victory against Jaypee Punjab warriors here on Monday. This was the second consecutive loss for the host at home and the result opens up the leaderboard with all four of the bottom teams in the reckoning to make it to the semifinal.

Playing a far more attacking game than it has in the past couple of games, JPW earned its first penalty corner in the very first minute, forcing PR Sreejesh to come to his team’s rescue. UPW, on the other hand, was up to the challenge as both teams played a completely open game while ensuring a tight defence.

The visitor went ahead in the fifth minute after PR Aiyappa’s shot into the striking circle rebounded off Mink van der Weerden’s stick and Shamsher Singh made no mistake in slamming it on to the board. With the match being crucial for both sides, the teams repeatedly went for field goals instead of trying to hold on and earn penalty corners. There were only three through the game – one for UPW and two for the host, one of which it tried to convert into a field goal but was thwarted by the UP defence.

Punjab was the more attacking of the two, earning chances in the first few minutes of every quarter, and one of them saw SV Sunil send the ball in 30 seconds into the third quarter. The ball went past Sreejesh and found Mirco Pruijser, who beat Gonzalo Peillat to level scores. Punjab attacked from both flanks, Armaan Qureshi – returning after missing two games due to a shin injury – troubling the UP defence on the left and Sunil on the right but was unable to get past Raghunath & Co.

At the other end, the Wizards preferred to build up its attack slowly but more tightly, taking full advantage of the space opened up by during counter-attacks. Akashdeep Singh kept setting up the strikers before Ajay Yadav received one at the top of the circle and slammed it past JPW goalkeeper Tristan Clemons, who had been exceptional in the last three games, to put the visitors ahead. Akashdeep got his own name on the scoresheet with a reverse hit in the 57th minute to extend the lead and seal the win for his team.

With a three day break for Punjab before it plays its remaining two home matches, the defending champion would be hoping to use the rest to recoup and plan ahead. UP, already forced to play two of its home games in Delhi due to the state elections, would be hoping to make full use of home advantage when it travels back to Lucknow for its next game.

The result: Uttar Pradesh Wizards 6 (Shamsher Singh 2 FG, Ajay Yadav 2 FG, Akashdeep Singh 2 FG) bt Jaypee Punjab Warriors 2 (Mirco Pruijser 2 FG).