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World Series Hockey -- Strykers survive Sher barrage in style

852   //    27 Mar 2012, 21:17 IST

Mario Almada of Pune Strykers celebrates after scoring a goal against Sher E Punjab during their match at Pune

Pune Strykers survived a Sher-E-Punjab pounding but hung on for dear life to score a nerve tingling 3-2 come from behind victory in a 13th round match of the Bridgestone World Series Hockey in their hometown tonight. The win put them back in contention for a semi-final spot.

The Shers stunned the lively home support at the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation Stadium when Bikramjeet Singh fired the first salvo by converting a penalty corner in the 6th minute. But a penalty stroke goal by Vikas Pillay and a double strike by their penalty corner expert Gurpreet Singh helped the hosts squeeze through. Gagan Ajit Singh reduced the margin in the 63rd minute off a penalty corner.

But the hero of the Pune win was goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Guri who repelled almost everything that Punjab threw at him. Despite getting injured and being replaced for a while, he came back in the dying minutes and pulled off another save to help script a famous upset. The Punjab lions, who have already qualified for the semis, forced 13 penalty corners in all, and scored from two, but Pune defended with all their might and did not let them do further damage.

Their fifth victory forces the Strykers into the top four with 18 points while the Shers continue their stint at the top of the table with 25 points despite their fourth defeat.

After conceding early it looked like another washout for the Strykers who had started off so impressively in the league. But with 1996 Olympian Rahul Singh in the dugout and coach Gundeep Kumar in the stands, Pune displayed positive intent in both attack and defence tonight as they rallied for a place in the semis.

Pillay equalized via a penalty stroke in the 12th minute after Mathew Hotchkis stopped a goal bound drag flick on the goalline with his shoulder. The Strykers wrested the advantage through Gupreet Singh with consecutive strikes from penalty corners in the 29th and 33rd minutes. The first came off an interesting 1-2 with Tyron Pereira after his direct flicks were being easily read by the Punjab rushers. But the second was a direct attempt that brooked no stopping.

The locals also had a Mario Almada goal disallowed in the 17th minute on referral as the ball had stolen in after kissing the foot of Roshan Minz.

After Pillay helped them draw level, the Strykers could have gone into the lead in the first quarter itself but Sher custodian Sukhjeet Sigh pulled off good saves from the attempts of Pillay and the Argentine veteran.

In the last two quarters it was Punjab all the way though Lungille Tsolekile had a chance to increase Pune’s tally in the third quarter but the South African failed to trap the ball.

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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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