Goalkeeper Gurpreet ‘Guri’ Singh was the toast of the Mahindra Stadium by making three saves in the innovative tie-breaker as Pune Strykers staged a sensational comeback to stun favourites Chandigarh Comets 7-6 and storm into the final of the inaugural Bridgestone World Series Hockey championship to be played at the same venue in Mumbai tomorrow.
Their opponents in the title round will be Sher-E-Punjab who had earlier beaten Karnataka Lions 4-1 in the first semi-final played at Bangalore.
It look like curtains for the Deccan side after the table toppers from Punjab had taken a commanding 4-1 lead in the third quarter only for Gundeep Kumar’s side to come storming back with Simrandeep Sing Randhawa firing in an equalizer in the 70th minute from Pune’s eight penalty corner to send the thrilling match into an equally nail biting tie-breaker.
Gurjinder Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Ajitesh Roy and Rehan Butt were on target for the Comets in regulation time while Mario Almada, Tyron Pereira, Bikash Pillay and Simrandeep got the goals for the Strykers.
In the tie-breaker, the Comets again went into the lead as Roshan Minz missed the first try for the Strykers while Gurjinder and Bharat Chikara had succeeded from their attempts. However, Almada, Bikash Toppo and Nikkin Thimmiah found the target for the winners while Guri heroically foiled the next attempts by Ramandeep, Sukhwinder Singh Gabbar and skipper Butt..
After the two early setbacks, the Deccan side dominated the remainder of the first quarter and almost all of the second quarter. Pune captain Ken Pereira led from the front with a sustained effort and was the prime mover behind several of their raids. Almada and Roshan Minz worked their butts off but the goals did not come.
On the other hand, the Comets set a scorching pace in the third quarter and came up with the vital goals that almost decided the fate of the match.
Birthday boy Gurjinder Singh gave himself a perfect present, a goal from the first penalty corner the Comets forced in the 5th minute. It was his 19th strike of the tournament and elevated him to joint top scorer status along with Imran Warsi.
The Strykers hit back in the 8th minute Mario Almada got a free tap in at the far post due to some sloppy defending by the Punjab side. However, a lightning attack a minute later restored the Comets’ lead when Ramandeep dived in to deflect Gabbar’s shot onto the boards.
Then Roy and Butt left their impression on the scoreboard in the 40th and 41st minutes respectively, the spadework being done on both occasions by the tricky Sher Singh. However, Pereira gave the Strykers another lifeline when he reduced the margin from the Strykers’ third penalty corner, again due to some slack defending by Harendra Kumar’s wards. Toppo pulled another back with a wonder strike in the 58th minute which gave Pune the momentum again. They upped the ante and forced three penalty corners in the dying minutes before Simrandeep turned the last to account. The rest is history….