Mandeep Singh and Nick Wilson scored twice each to help host Ranchi Rhinos beat Uttar Pradesh Wizards 4-2 in a thrilling encounter and enter the summit clash of the inaugural Hockey India League in front of a packed Astroturf Hockey Stadium here on Saturday.
The Rhinos scored through field goals from Mandeep (5th minute, 66th) and Wilson (32nd, 64th), while Nithin Thimmaiah (16th, 54th) was the goal-getter for the Wizards.
Encouraged by a capacity home crowd, it was the Rhinos who started the proceedings on a bright note and were soon rewarded for their efforts when Mandeep scored in the fifth minute after latching on to a loose ball inside the Wizards’ ‘D’
Stunned by the early goal, the UP side pressed hard with numerous raids into the rival citadel before Thimmaiah equalised for the visitors in the 16th minute. The lanky Thimmaiah found the back of the Rhinos net with a reverse hit after he was beautifully set up by Dutch legend Tuen de Nooijer.
The Rhinos managed to get the lead back within three minutes from the opening half through Wilson, who managed to slot in following a goal-mouth melee. The Wizards protested the goal and went for a referral which was rejected.
The Wizards, however, made a great start to the fourth quarter as Thimmaiah got the visitors on level terms scoring from a rebound after de Nooijer's initial touched hit the body of Ranchi custodian Francisco Cortes.
It took two brilliant field goals from the Rhinos in a span of three minutes to seal the game and a place in Sunday’s title clash in their favour.
Wilson scored his second goal of the day in the 64th minute from the top of the ‘D’ after a solo run from the mid-field.
Two minutes later, a young Mandeep celebrated his maiden selection in the Indian team in style when he hit his 10th goal in the tournament thanks to some individual brilliance.
Mandeep lobbed the ball above the head of UP goal-keeper after receiving long scoop to send the crowd into frenzy.
Praise for Mandeep
Victorious Ranchi coach Gregg Clarke and skipper Moritz Furste was full of praise for Mandeep, terming the young forward as the future star of Indian hockey.
“Mandeep was simply brilliant. When we first saw him he was a little boy just jumping around the field. But he has evolved as a player as the tournament progressed,” Clark said.
“I hope you will enjoy Mandeep in the next 10 years to come,” Furste added.
The Wizards coach Roelant Oltmans obviously was a disappointed man but admitted that the Rhinos were by far the better side. “We are obviously disappointed. I feel we didn't start well. Ranchi were the better team, they made remarkable forays,” he said.
Oltmans, however, was critical of Ranchi's second goal which was upheld after the Wizards went for the referral.
“Ranchi's second goal was important because everyone saw it was not a goal. I feel you either don't use the referral system or use it properly,” he said.
The result: Ranchi Rhinos 4 (Mandeep Singh 5, 66; Nick Wilson 32, 64) bt Uttar Pradesh Wizards 2 (Nithin Thimmaiah 16, 54). — PTI