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World Series Hockey -- Pune Stryke down the Lions

996   //    12 Mar 2012, 21:06 IST


Pune Strykers held their nerve to pip Karnataka Lions 3-2 in an engrossing seventh round match of the Bridgestone World Series Hockey at the PCMC Stadium and storm back to the top of the table.

The scorers were Roshan Minz, Lungile Tsolekile and Damandeep Singh for the locals and Len Aiyappa (penalty stroke) and Nitin Kumar for the visitors.

The Strykers’ sheer inability to close out the match, put away their chances and make the most of their dominance could have almost cost them dear today as well as the Lions forced a couple of penalty corners in the dying minutes. But Len Aiyappa could not come to the rescue even as Pune’s own Gurpreet Singh too could not find the mark from the 11 awards  that were awarded today at both ends.

Despite having skipper and inspirational midfielder Ken Pereira on the bench, the Strykers set a crackling pace right from the outset and peppered the Karnataka goal with a flurry of attacks and shots. They deservedly took the lead that Roshan Minz got them in the 8th minute by bundling in a rebound after Devesh Chauhan had rushed out to foil Bikash Toppo. The formerIndia keeper made at least five saves in the first quarter and three in as many minutes soon after the start.

Brimming with confidence after their big win against Chennai Cheetahs, the Lions came roaring back and could have got onto the scoreboard but local hero Dhanraj Pillay was a tad too slow to reach a superb diagonal pass from the left flank. The veteran twisted his knee in the last quarter and hobbled out for the night.

Aiyappa equalised in the 24th minute after Vikram Yadav stopped his penalty corner drive which had deflected off goalkeeper Guri onto his body on the goalline. He made no mistake from the resultant stroke for his fifth goal of the championship.

Jude Felix’s lads initially sat back and absorbed the pressure with their defence having a good outing but found their attacking rhythm in the second quarter after their midfield purred back into life. There was a big gap between their forwards and midfield but by the middle of the second quarter they had plugged that with defender Zeeshan Ashraf playing slightly up in the midfield in an interventionist role and Aiyappa functioning as sweeper.

The Lions slowly took the battle to the other side and Guri was called upon off and on to come to Pune’s rescue. With the match drifting away, Pune suddenly seized the initiative when Tsolikile finished clinically following a good attack in the 47th minute. But Pune’s shocking inability to concede soon after scoring came back to haunt them when Nitin Kumar equalized a minute later from a swift counter.

Just when another draw seemed on the cards, Damandeep powered in the match winner from a penalty corner scrimmage for Pune to zoom to the top with 12 points from their third win while the Lions remain in the cellar with six points from their fifth defeat.

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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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