Chennai: With an authoritative display that underscored a veneer of adeptness and athleticism, Orissa Steelers gathered full points against the defending champion, Bangalore Lions 3-0 in the Premier Hockey League on Thursday at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium. This should rank as among the best encounters played in the competition this far.
From the start it was evident that it was Orissa's evening. Every layer worked an admirable measure of proficiency with the frontline performing exceedingly well. What lent the Steelers' sallies a touch of punch was the enterprise of Damandeep Singh. In every foray, he had a hand. Equally energetic were Roshan Minz and Bruno Adrian. The combined thrust of the trio laid the wobbly Bangalore Lions' defence flat.
Prabhodh Tirkey and Sunil Yadav were conspicuous in the midfield with the former playing a heroic role. Prabhodh's goalline save off a stinging drag flick by Len Aiyappa in the last quarter was spectacular. He was instrumental too in blunting the sharpness of attack from the dangerous Pakistani, Rehan Butt.
For reasons inexplicable, the Bangalore Lions' frontline worked only spasmodically. With Rehan blocked so well, the focus had to shift to the left flank where Tushar Khandekar made a few sinuous runs down the line. Amar Aiyamma laboured to inject an element of cohesion into the attack as did Sabu Varkey. But with the mid-field in such a disarray, the Bangalore Lions' frontline work was hardly powerful enough to beat the well organised Steelers' defence headed by veteran Dilip Tirkey.
With the scoreboard remaining blank till late in the second quarter, an absorbing contest was on the cards, and so it proved. It was once again Steller who wrote the script for Steelers. The sequence started from a penalty corner flick. Stellers' attempt was foiled neatly by Amar Aiyamma rushing forward. As the ball rolled ahead, Minz picked it up and crossed. Steller regained possession on top of the circle, and beat Bharat Chetri all ends of up with a withering drive.
Palpably buoyed by the success, the Steelers escalated pressure. The Lions matched and smothered it well while endeavouring to turn it on the opponent. It almost succeeded when Tushar Khandekar broke through forcing goalkeeper Salman Akbar to stretch himself to baulk the shot. A quick clearance by Williams Xalco relieved the tension.
Midway through Orissa Steelers enlarged the lead with an effort that was charming both for its conception and execution. Jasbir Singh plucked the ball from the tentative Lions' skipper Halappa. Then the ball was relayed to Damandeep, whose quick pass set Bruno Adrian in motion. After ambling in nearly 20 yards, Bruno executed a perfect centre. All that Adnan Zakir had to do was to put the stick in front of Chetri to direct the ball into the boards.
Clearly beaten and crestfallen, the Lions made a feeble attempt to regain the initiative, but Prabhodh Tirkey's goal-line save off a Len Aiyappa flicked showed the mood of the Steelers. In the closing minutes, it was Steelers again, with Damandeep Singh capping a fine individual effort, that he richly deserved in the match.
Orissa Steelers now has 11 points from five matches against the nine by Bangalore Lions in six matches.
The result: Orissa Steelers 3 (Tjeerd Steller, Adnan Zakir, Damandeep Singh) beat Bangalore Lions 0. MOM: Sunil Yadav.
Friday's match: Hyderbad Sultans v Chandigarh Dynamos (7 p.m.)