Mohammad Radzi Rodzhaninzam's late winner delivered Karnataka Lions a dramatic 3-2 victory over Pune Strykers to finally lift it out of the bottom of the World Series Hockey table.
With the clock ticking down on a game that had lost much of its early frenzy, the Malaysian forward deflected a long ball out of defence three minutes from time to hand Lions a desperately needed win at the KSHA Stadium here on Wednesday.
“It's always great when you win like that,” captain Arjun Halappa said afterwards. “But to be honest, we could have scored two or three goals in the final quarter. We were practically camped in their half. This result was crucial; from being the last team we have moved up to sixth.”
Ravipal Singh had put the home side ahead early in a frenetic first quarter, driving into space before unleashing a thunderous shot from the top of the circle.
Lions, despite not looking particularly fluent, managed to grab even a second when veteran Len Aiyappa converted a penalty corner on 11 minutes. The defence, however, had never been watertight; it did not take long for the cracks to show up. Pune's Nikkin Thimmaiah was left unattended near the far post, and when Birendra Lakra centred from the right, all he had to do was tap the ball in.
The visitor soon drew level, Bikash Toppo slotting home a penalty corner in the second quarter.
The game slowed down thereafter but Lions' goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan still had a great deal of work to do. The 31-year-old, later rightly declared Man-of-the-match, kept his side in the contest with a string of fine saves.
At the other end, Lions had two gilded chances to move ahead but spurned both. As the game neared the end, a draw looked the most likely outcome; Radzi, however, had other ideas.
The result: Karnataka Lions 3 (Ravipal Singh, Len Aiyappa, Md. Radzi) bt Pune Strykers 2 (Nikkin Thimmaiah, Bikash Toppo).
Friday's matches: Pune Strykers v Mumbai Marines, Pune, 7 p.m.; Karnataka Lions vs Sher-E-Punjab, Bangalore, 9 p.m. — Shreedutta Chidananda