Punjab wins National hockey title

Punjab won its first national title in five years, registering a 2-1 win against Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) in the final of the 8th Men's National Hockey Championships here on Sunday, as the team's cohesion and big-match temperament got the better of a star-studded PSPB.

Punjab players celebrate their victory in Lucknow on Sunday.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

Punjab won its first national title in five years, registering a 2-1 win against Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) in the final of the 8th Men's National Hockey Championships here on Sunday, as the team's cohesion and big-match temperament got the better of a star-studded PSPB.

Clearly the better team on the day, Punjab relied on the pace of its youngsters and the experience of its senior players to constantly create chances upfront. Barring the opening goal in the third minute itself by PSPB courtesy a penalty corner conversion by Gurjinder Singh, the debutant in the competition struggled to find opportunities, staying largely defensive. It was also the only goal PC for PSPB who only had chances few and far between.

In fact, it was all about Punjab in the second half as the former champions, who last won the title in 2012, kept finding gaps in the

PSPB defence but was unlucky to see the balls rolling away. Dharminder Singh came close to scoring but was warded off by PSPB custodian Vikas Dahiya, Sarwanjit Singh kept shooting wide and Pawandeep Singh was unable to get the final touch in.

In all this, captain Gurbaj Singh was all over the field, bolstering the defence and opening up gaps in the attack even while feeding the youngsters ahead. The constant offence finally paid off when Punjab

earned its first PC but Sarwanjit's push was too weak to even reach the top of the circle. It was Punjab’s second PC, that was converted to a stroke for deliberate obstruction by Vickram Kanth, that saw the team finally get the equaliser in the 53rd minute.

The goal seemed to bolster the team's confidence even more and an, even as the game appeared headed for a shotoout, an overhead diagonal pass by Jasjit Kular in the final few seconds found an unmarked Sarwanjit Singh lurking inside the circle who took no time in trapping and shooting past an advancing Dahiya for the winner.

In the playoff for the third spot, defending champion Railways edged past Air India 6-5 in shootouts after the teams were tied 1-1 at the end of regulation time. It was a match that both teams seemed determined to lose, missing chances by the dozen and shooting wayward.

Railways earned eight penalty corners through the match and had as many open chances but could not find a way past Air India goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza, who proved why he continues to be rated so highly in the country, diving and leaping to keep his team in the game. But at the other end, Arjun Sharma and Mohd Faraz missed sitters in front of empty goals. In the shootout, while Railways managed to score off all its five attempts, AB Cheeyanna missed for Air India.