World Series Hockey -- Strykers fight back to hold Cheetahs to a thrilling draw
Pune Strykers showed amazing fighting spirit to draw level on three occasions before settling for a 3-3 tie with a superior Chennai Cheetahs in a thrilling fifth round Bridgestone World Series Hockey clash played at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium in the southern coastal city tonight.
The high profile and well contested encounter featured guru (Jose Brasa) vs chela (Gundeep Kumar) and it was also a battle between the tournament’s two joint top scorers, the penalty corner experts Imran Warsi and Gurpreet Singh, a mouth watering prospects for the fans that lived up to its billing with end to end action and some great goals.
The Pakistani fired a brace of drag flicks (30th and 44th minutes) to restore his position as tournament top scorer with 10 goals. An opening minute strike by 2004 Olympian Adam Sinclair had given the hosts the perfect start to the match. The westerners however fought back to drew level on each occasion through Roshan Minz (5th), Bikash Toppo (34th) and Simrandeep Singh (65th minute) and keep their unbeaten record intact.
The Cheetahs, looking for a win to top the pool, showed aggressive intent right from the start with the quartet of the ‘Wizards of Oz’ — skipper Brent Livermore, Joseph Reardon, Mark Harris and bustling newcomer Peter Kelly (all playing for Grafton, the New South Wales champions) – combining in perfect harmony. The last named was clearly the defining influence as he created havoc with his searing runs and deservingly earned the man of the match award. The return of Vikram Pillay also added flair to the Madras midfield and pivot Livermore was able to neutralize the efficacy of his counterpart on the other side, Ken Pereira, with his other colleagues rising to the occasion.
Cheetahs had a dream start when Harris’ cross from the right was put away by Sinclair due to some sloppy defending by Pune in the opening minute. However, Minz scored a cracker of a goal with a reverse hit from the top of the circle to make it 1-1 — the 100th goal of the championship.
Warsi then put the home side in front again from Chennai’s second penalty corner but Toppo made it 2-2 on the call of half-time after being set up by ‘Super Mario’ Almada’s magical run. Warsi again came up trumps from the Cheetahs’ fifth penalty corner but with Gurpreet firing blanks today from Pune’s set pieces, it was left to young Simrandeep Singh to help his side share honours with a superb conversion five minutes before full time.
There was still more goalmouth action after that at both ends but no further goals as the defences held firm in the dying minutes.
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