Punjab displayed its fighting spirit to beat Odisha 4-3 in a closely contested final to win the National junior hockey championship at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium here on Sunday.

The Punjab boys tasted success through Gurjinder Singh (10th and 55th minutes), Akashdeep Singh (38th) and Mandeep Singh (59th). Bikash Kujur (13th), Alsem Lakra (25th) and Amonmirash Tirkey (27th) shot home for Odisha, which finished runner-up for the second consecutive year.

Despite their superiority in terms of skills, the Odisha players could not rise to the occasion. After leading 3-1 at half-time, the team paid the price for its complacency after the change of ends.

Aggressive start

Punjab began with its trademark aggression as its active left flank put constant pressure on the Odisha backline. Gurjinder scored off the second penalty corner to help his side take an early lead.

Soon, following a superb cross from Tirkey, Kujur did a solo run and beat Punjab custodian Gurjot Singh amid a loud round of applause from the stands. Once the Odisha boys found their rhythm through the equaliser, Punjab had no answer for the rest of the first period.

Odisha forwards intercepted well and showed good coordination to launch repeated raids on the Punjab post. Lakra banked on his crafty stick work and good understanding with Tirkey to dodge past two defenders and Gurjot to put his side ahead.

The Odisha frontline controlled the proceedings despite missing some easy chances. Tirkey, who was later adjudged the player of the championship, utilised a timely cross from Rajin Tandulna to increase the lead as the last year's finalist looked set for a comprehensive win.

Errors galore

The second half presented a contrasting picture as the Odisha players committed plenty of unforced errors. A series of poor passing and half-hearted tackling allowed Punjab to make a comeback.

Sloppy defence gifted Akashdeep an early breakthrough after the resumption and Gurjinder made the most of his side's sixth short corner to level the scores. Mandeep completed a coordinated effort to tap in the winner.

Odisha had the last chance to save the game when it got a penalty corner in the 70th minute. However, captain Amit Rohidas's shot sailed over the bar.

Punjab coach Autar Singh hailed his boys' fighting spirit. “We never gave up despite being down for some time. Overall, the performance was satisfying,” he said.

Odisha coach K.C. Choudhary said his players did not stick to the game plan in the second period. “The plan was to hold the ball. But our passing was poor and it gave Punjab the chance to counterattack.”

Haryana beat Sports Authority of India (SAI) Bhopal 2-0 to take the third place. Naveen (17th) and Gurjant Singh (49th) scored the goals.

The results:

Final: Punjab 4 (Gurjinder Singh-2, Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh) bt Odisha 3 (Bikash Kujur, Alsem Lakra, Amonmirash Tirkey). Third place playoff: Haryana 2 (Naveen, Gurjant Singh) bt SAI Bhopal 0.

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