Uttar Pradesh Wizards defeated debutants Kalinga Lancers 4-3 in a high-scoring, entertaining league match to seal their place in the semifinals of the second edition of Hero Hockey India League (HHIL) at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, while the Odisha outfit will miss the place in final four.
In their must win match to stay alive in the tournament, Kalinga Lancers started on a bright note and dominated the early share of exchanges.
The hosts had the first shot at goal but centre forward Amir Khan fumbled with only the Uttar Pradesh Wizards goalkeeper George Bazeley to beat.
After a slow start, Uttar Pradesh Wizards soon came back and earned two penalty corners in succession but both the chances were wasted by visiting team captain V R Raghunath.
It was a neck-and-neck fight between the two teams as Kalinga Lancers then got two successive penalty corners but the hosts did not help their cause and failed to convert the opportunities.
Chances came thick and fast for both the teams in the first quarter and from one such chance the Uttar Pradesh Wizards surged ahead through Nithin Thimmaiah who scored from a field effort in the eighth minute.
Uttar Pradesh Wizards extended their lead in the 17th minute through skipper Raghunath’s penalty corner conversion.
Kalinga Lancers pulled one back in the 23rd minute through Lalit Upadhyay’s field effort.
Kalinga Lancers continued to attack and earned another penalty corner in the 30th minute only for Glen Simpson to miss the target.
Kalinga Lancers dished out an attacking performance and tried many opportunities to goal against Uttar Pradesh Wizards in the opening half, but goals eluded them.
Uttar Pradesh Wizards earned their fourth penalty corner late into the third quarter but the try went wide of the goal.
Both Uttar Pradesh Wizards and Kalinga Lancers came all out attacking in the fourth and final quarter of the match, which witnessed intense battle between the two teams.
The two teams produced high level hockey in the final quarter to enthrall the crowd with as many as four goals.
Uttar Pradesh Wizards made the scoreline 3-1 in the 55th minute when Nikkin Thimmaiah struck after being set up by Harjeet Singh.
Kalinga Lancers, however, were in no mood to give up without a fight and scored two goals in a span of four minutes to level the scores.
First Gagandeep Singh (58th minute) scored through a rebound from close range before Gonzalo Peillat converted a penalty corner to send the home crowd into frenzy.
But veteran Tushar Khandker (68th minute) scored a field goal just two minutes from the final hooter Uttar Pradesh Wizards to seal the winner for the visitors.
The win gave Uttar Pradesh Wizards five points and consolidated their second position in the standings with 26 points from eight games. Kalinga Lancers, on the other hand, have slumped to their sixth defeat in the tournament and have just 11 points from eight matches.
Speaking to the media, Terry Walsh, Coach of Kalinga Lancers said, “We played very well. Our bad luck that we lost although our defenders played quite well. We missed few good opportunities and that is why we lost our chance this time to be in the tournament.”
Prabodh Tirkey, Captain of Kalinga Lancers said, “The team improved tremendously through the tournament journey. It is our bad luck that we are no more in the tournament. The crowd has supported us a lot but we failed to match up to their expectations. We will try our level best to win tomorrow’s match.
Roelant Oltmans, coach of Uttar Pradesh Wizards said, “We won the match and the players are very excited. Although they missed few good chances but overall they played fantastic. Today we were in the key position that’s why we won. Going forward we will try our best to save our position and be there in the semi finals. Kalinga Lancers being a fresher in the tournament played very well. Hope next time they are in the top four.”
Tushar Khandker, Uttar Pradesh Wizards said, “Public support was fantastic in this ground. Orissa people are crazy about hockey and one can see their enthusiasm. This is a new ground but it is one of the best turfs to play on. Orissa players are tremendous and the state has given legendary players to Indian hockey team. We are looking forward to win more to stay in the competition.”
Hero Man of the Match – Nikkin Thimmaiah
Hero Goal of the Match – Lalit Upadhyay
Yes Bank Garv Award – Nithin Thimmaiah
Kalinga Lancers will next host defending champion Ranchi Rhinos at the same venue here tomorrow, while the Wizards will be up against Jaypee Punjab Warrior in Mohali on Saturday.