Uttar Pradesh Wizards registers first win, moves ahead in the table

The host rode on field goals from Akashdeep Singh and Seve van Ass to win 4-0, taking its total to 20 points with three games in hand. Ranchi, on the other hand, has just one more game to go and with 18 points, is in a precarious situation in the race to the semifinals.

Uttar Pradesh Wizards rode on Akashdeep Singh’s brace to return to winning ways   -  Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

Uttar Pradesh Wizards registered its first-ever victory against two-time champion Ranchi Rays in the Hockey India League (HIL) to not just stay alive in the competition but also leap-frog into third position on the table at the Major Dhyanchand Stadium here on Thursday.

The host rode on field goals from Akashdeep Singh and Seve van Ass to win 4-0, taking its total to 20 points with three games in hand. Ranchi, on the other hand, has just one more game to go and with 18 points, is in a precarious situation in the race to the semifinals.

As has been the case right through the season, Ranchi created the chances, did the hard work and managed to keep possession for a major part but was let down by its forwards. That has been the story of the side so far and it stayed true to the script on Thursday.

Manpreet Singh, Gurbaj Singh and Barry Middleton ensured the team did not lose the ball and kept sending passes into the striking circle, orchestrating moves all the way from the back to the front, only to see them go waste. Birendra Lakra and Kothajit Singh tried to brave the UPW attacks and Tyler Lovell brought off some important saves but all of it mattered little.

Van Ass wrong-footed his marker Christopher Ruhr after receiving a long corner from Ajitesh Roy in the 37th minute to put the host ahead and Akashdeep stuck a rasping reverse hit from the top of the circle 37 seconds from time to double the lead and end all Ranchi's hopes. But while Gurbaj and Manpreet tirelessly kept setting up chances, Ruhr and Co. failed to get the final shot in.

That there were only two penalty corners conceded throughout the match, both by Ranchi, highlighted both the preference of field goals by the teams in the HIL this season and the teams’ struggle with their conversion rates. Ranchi has been the hardest hit, of the 33 it has earned so far, only one has been converted as Ashley Jackson seemed to have lose his mojo. On Thursday, the Englishman fluffed his passing and trapping as well, adding to Ranchi's troubles. German striker Christopher Ruhr, twice named FIH Rising Star of the Year, had a forgettable outing as well.

UPW, on the other hand, had Akashdeep Singh in fine form, running past the Ranchi defence and dodging his markers to find the target repeatedly, only to be thwarted by an alert Lakra and Lovell. The fact that, instead of trying to do everything on his own, as was his wont, Akashdeep teamed up with Agustin Mazzilli to set up others proved the youngster’s growth as a team player before he got himself on the scoresheet.

The result: Uttar Pradesh Wizards 4 (Seve van Ass 2 FG, Akashdeep Singh 2 FG) Ranchi Rays 0.