Uttar Pradesh Wizards struck twice in the second half to score a victory over Ranchi Rhinos in a round-robin league match of the Hockey India League here on Sunday.
A superb reverse hit by Jeroen Hertzberger and a penalty corner conversion by skipper V.R. Raghunath were good enough to earn the Wizards full points from the home game. The win took Wizards to 12 points, same as Delhi Waveriders, but it is on top of the points table due to a better goal difference.
The first half saw a battle between two sides that were trying to stamp their supremacy on the match. In the opening period, both the teams were solid at the back and in the mid-field, and as a result, good moves were few and far between.
Mandeep Singh constantly tried to break the Wizards’ defence, his first good move being blocked well by Harbir Singh. Mandeep was at his best once again, with the half-time whistle just a couple of minutes away. Beating a couple of defenders, Mandeep got really close to the Wizards’ post, eventually earning a penalty corner but to no avail.
The third quarter was dominated by Uttar Pradesh Wizards by actively putting pressure on the Rhinos. In the 37th minute Jolie Wouter’s ambitious reverse hit from the right flew over the goal-post. Five minutes later, Hertzberger came up with the hosts’ first real threat on Rhinos goal, with his very well struck reverse hit being saved well by goalkeeper Francisco Cortes.
The constant pressure finally paid dividends for the Wizards in the 47th minute when Hertzberger beat two defenders to smash a fierce reverse hit, which beat the outstretched arm of Cortes and went into the goal.
Wizards could have doubled the lead three minutes later but Raghunath’s low strike off a penalty corner was well saved by Cortes. Wizards, however, did manage to double its lead when Raghunath scored from the home team’s second penalty corner in the 60th minute.
Rhinos then pushed hard for goals and in the process started leaving some gaps in the defence; but the Wizards failed to take advantage of the situation.
Wizards had a chance of extending its lead in the last minute on a counter-attack but a well struck shot from Thimmanna was saved by Cortes.
Wizards coach Roelant Oltmans said his team’s performance was improving with every passing game.
“We played a really good game and implemented our strategy in an effective manner especially in the second half. I see the team’s performance improving on a day to day basis, we surely played a better game today than yesterday (Saturday),” he said at the post-match press conference.
“The team is slowly learning how to play each minute of the game and to improvise according to situations that arise in the game.”
Wizards captain Raghunath added: “After the first 20 minutes we went into attack mode and tried scoring a couple of goals but nothing came out of it. Our persistence paid off in the second half.”
Rhinos coach Gregg Clark said it was an off day for his side as it failed in all departments of the game.
“We couldn’t implement our game plan, maintain rhythm or coordinate well. I guess it was a bad day for the team. We will try and come back in the next match,” he said.
The result: Uttar Pradesh Wizards 2 (Jeroen Hertzberger 47th, V.R. Raghunath 60th) bt Ranchi Rhinos 0.