Ranchi Rays beat UP Wizards to reach HIL final
New Delhi, Feb 21 (IANS): Ranchi Rays beat Uttar Pradesh Wizards 9-8 via penalty shootouts, which reached sudden death, to enter the final of the Hockey India League (HIL) at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium here Saturday.
Wizards' V.R. Raghunath (39th minute) and Rays' Ashley Jackson (42nd) scored but both teams refused to be separated after 60 minutes of play, taking the game to penalties.
The competition saw a neck-and-neck contest even in the decider. Wizards' Jeroen Hertzberger converted thrice but others were inconsistent while their swap of P.R. Sreejesh with George Bazeley didn't work out eventually.
For Rays, skipper Ashley Jackson, even though failing to convert a stroke, scored thrice to show them the way. Barry Middleton also scored thrice while Australian Daniel Beale scored the winner in the shootout. Manpreet Singh failed twice but others made amends for the mistake.
With the loss, the Wizards have failed to win three consecutive HIL semi-finals.
At the start, both teams were defensive and didn't want to lose ball possession.
Jackson and Middleton were in the thick of action from the beginning. The 31-year-old Middleton, especially, supplied twice inside the circle but Mandeep Singh and Nick Wilson failed to make it count.
Wilson played with much more accuracy in the second quarter and earned a penalty corner in the 21st minute. It needed a diving P.R. Sreejesh to ward off Jackson's flick.
A couple of minutes later, Jackson again failed to go past India goalkeeper Sreejesh twice in the second quarter.
After being dominated for the most part of the second quarter, the Wizards hit back. Dutch striker Hertzberger led a fierce counter-attack and shrugged off two Rays defenders but he poked it wide. Another Dutchman Bob de Voogd fed Nithin Thimmaiah inside the box but the Indian saw his effort being blanked by a save from Tyler Lovell.
Wizards showed a very good game of defence, counter-attack and man-to-man marking.
While India international Jasjit Singh Khullar never allowed Mandeep to break free, Wizards skipper Wouter Jolie kept a close eye on Trent Mitton.
Continuing to be more mobile and attacking, midfielders de Voogd and Sander Baart pressed forward and combined nicely with seasoned Australian Eddie Ockenden, who earned their first penalty corner in the 39th minute.
Raghunath stepped up and his flick to the top-left easily defeated Lovell to make it 1-0 for Wizards.
Ockenden regularly avoided his markers -- Birendra Lakra and Kothajit Singh -- to keep Rays on the guard. However, Rays equalised in the 42nd minute as an inspired run from South African Austin Smith was halted inside the box. That earned a penalty stroke which was easily converted by Jackson.
Enthused after the equaliser, Rays looked a vastly improved side and continued to attack. Sreejesh was called in to action and he had a very good game apart from the stroke.
Two Australians -- Beale and Nick Budgeon -- played crucial roles in staving off strong challenges from Wizards.
Mandeep earned a penalty corner in the 59th minute for Rays. But Jackson failed to make the most out of two back-to-back chances to enter the shootout.