World Series Hockey - Shers stretch their lead
The hosts seemed to be heading for a facile victory after sitting on a 4-1 lead, but a late comeback by the visitors who scored three goals in the last quarter, including two in the last four minutes, helped the latter bow out with their honour restored.
The Shers, who had also emerged victorious in their first leg encounter by the odd goal in five, now stretch their lead at the top of the table to 19 points (from six wins and a draw), six more than the second placed Badshahs who slumped to their fourth defeat.
The match, which featured the best attack (27 goals scored) versus the best defence (only 14 goals conceded) was disappointing as a spectacle and did not set the stands at the Surjit Singh Hockey Stadium on fire. Both teams played well within themselves initially and the scorers, who have generally had to work overtime in this championship, were not called upon to do anything till just before the half time hooter.
For a side, which has the worst penalty corner conversion rates in the tournament, the Shers, who came out more positive after the change of ends, scored two from penalty corner rebounds through Inderjeet Singh (35th minute) and Mandeep Antil (41st). Veteran Gagan Ajit Singh added a field effort a minute later and the prodigal Australian Matthew Hotchkis slammed in the fourth (57th) to put the Punjabis on the victory path.
The first three goals resulted from tentative defending by the visitors, the third especially from a blatant error as the ball was cleared straight to Gagan who did not look the gift horse in the mouth. The Shers, who did not play gracious hosts, however deserve full credit for taking advantage of the bloopers committed by the dethroned royals.
Kiwi medio Casey Henwood scored a freak reducer in the 46th minute, his try from a back pass by a reluctant Sameer Dad ballooning over goalkeeper Sukhjeet Singh after taking a deflection off a defender and dipping into the cage. Goals by the hardworking Lalit Kumar Upadhyay (66th minute) and Shailendra Bundela (69th minute penalty corner conversion) however brought the match to a tight and tense finish but it was too late in the day.
The Punjab outfit had more of the chances in the first two quarters as Gagan and Deepak Thakur put Bhopal goalkeeper Baljit Singh to the test, but they could not take the game by the scruff of the neck as they did yesterday against the Chandigarh Comets. The locals could have opened their account much earlier if Hotchkis had taken his chances, the Australian missing incredibly at the far post in the 22nd minute with the target at his mercy.
Bhopal also posed a few threats of their own with tricky Upadhyay on the left flank coming up with a few dazzling runs and intelligent passes. But it was not enough to give them a feeling of ascendancy and they fizzled out as the game progressed only to wake up at the fag end and make a match of it.