Punjab was crowned the second Hockey India Senior National champion here on Tuesday, after a sudden-death own goal in the final helped it secure a 2-1 victory over Air India. It was an anti-climactic conclusion to what had been a largely cagey game at the KSHA Stadium; extra-time lasted all of two minutes before Gurbaj Singh’s shot from just outside the circle went in off V.S. Vinaya’s stick.
Till that point, both sides had been mostly cautious — Prabhdeep Singh’s early second-half goal cancelled out swiftly by a largely cagey game at the KSHA Stadium.
“It was unfortunate,” the Air India coach Dhanraj Pillai said afterwards.
“Both teams had come with a good strategy and played well. It was a good match to watch.”
For his counterpart Baljit Singh Saini, the outcome was a reflection of the side’s tactics.
“It was always going to be a tough match because Air India is a much more experienced team than ours. So our strategy was mainly defensive in the first half. In the second, we started pressing and that paid dividends.”
The first half was a battle of attrition, neither side willing to commit itself greatly.
Punjab’s Akashdeep Singh and Ravipal Singh had shots saved by the goalkeeper, while at the other end Sameer Dad and Shivendra Singh missed scoring in identical fashion, their outstretched sticks narrowly failing to reach crosses.
Joga Singh was fed a great ball just before the interval, but he clubbed it wildly over the bar.
The teams emerged slightly bolder in the second period, and at once there was a goal.
A minute in, the Punjab outside right Satbir Singh drove into the area before squaring for Prabhdeep; the latter slotted home at the far post.
The lead, however, lasted a mere two minutes. Air India forced a penalty corner — the game’s first — that Vinaya converted without trouble.
There was a flurry of chances at both ends, Sarvanjit and Shivendra missing from close range.
The game had clearly opened up at this stage: Gurbaj was making energetic runs down the right while for Air India Arjun Halappa was attempting his scooped cross-field passes.
Either side could have won it in the final few moments, but Vinaya’s drag-flick was cleared off the line and Prabhdeep’s reverse hit came off the post.
In the event, regulation time would not separate the sides. It would take a strangely soft goal, but Punjab was not complaining.
The results: Final: Punjab 2 (Prabhdeep Singh 36, OG 72) bt Air India 1 (V.S. Vinaya 38) AET.
Third place playoff: Karnataka 2 (M.B. Aiyappa 24, V.R. Raghunath 41) bt Haryana 1 (Sardar Singh 60).
Special awards: Best Defender: Gurjinder Singh, Best Forward: Arjun Halappa, Player of the Tournament: M.B. Aiyappa.
Player of the Match: Sarvanjit Singh.