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World Series Hockey -- Pune Stryke back with a vengeance

690   //    23 Mar 2012, 21:18 IST

Determined Pune clawed back from a two goal deficit to Stryke down the challenge of Mumbai Marines by a 4-2 margin in an exciting bottom of the table 11th round Bridgestone World Series Hockey clash in their hometown tonight.

Young Nikkin Thimmiah was the unlikely hero for the hosts with a double strike in the 43rd and 45th minutes that finally delivered for their enthusiastic supporters thronging the PCMC Stadium a happy ending. Gurpreet was the first to get into the act for the Deccan team with a penalty corner conversion in the 28th minute while Mario Almada made it 2-2 just before half-time. Earlier, Banmali Xess and Aijub Ekka had put the Marines two up inside 27 minutes.

With this victory, Pune, who had also won their high scoring first leg encounter 7-5, have gifted themselves a lifeline after three consecutive losses earlier. With 15 points they have now moved to fourth place and are back in the reckoning for a semi-final slot. On the other hand it is almost curtains for the visitors who succumbed to their fifth successive defeat (seventh overall) and remain at the bottom of the barrel with 10 points.

Mumbai were the better team in the first two quarters in this crunch match which started slowly with both teams keen on keeping possession and avoiding mistakes. The Marines  played another fluid game today with right back James Nation hitting some great long diagonal balls for his attackers. But their final touch was not incisive enough to cause Pune enough damage. They also wasted the two penalty corners due to poor stopping on a seemingly bumpy pitch.

On the other hand, the home team took their time to stryke their rhythm as the co-ordination between their attack and midfield was found wanting initially. But once they did, they were on song and also closed out the match unlike on earlier occasions.

Mumbai deservingly opened the account in the 16th minute through a Xess reverse hit after after he smartly collected a long hit by centre-half Clyde Abrahams. Ekka then got onto the scoreboard  with his tomahawk shot getting the better of Guri who seemed to be out of position. The Pune goalkeeper however made a few vital saves that stopped the Mariners from making more waves.

Gurpreet reduced the margin from the only penalty corner forced by both sides in the first two quarters, his powerful flick going in off Viren Rasquinha’s stick. Then  Almada came up with a superb reverse strike from a narrow angle just before half-time after Roshan Minz had put him through on the left.

Two stunning goals by Thimmiah in the third quarter completely changed the dynamics of the match with Pune finding some ‘josh’ in their sticks and taking the game to the rival citadel with more aggression. If not for a couple of saves by rival custodian Adrian D’Souza, the Strykers could have rung in the celebrations this evening with an even more emphatic margin.

Mario Rodrigues is a senior sports journalist and football & hockey writer. He is the author of the acclaimed biography of Ranjitsinhji titled ‘Batting for the Empire’.
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