SV Sunil scored two goals to help Jaypee Punjab Warriors edge past hosts Uttar Pradesh Wizards 4-3 in a round-robin match to move to the third spot in the inaugural Hockey India League here on Sunday. By virtue of this win Punjab are lying third in the points table with 20 points from seven games, behind table toppers Delhi Waveriders (27) and second-placed Ranchi Rhinos (22). UP Wizards are fourth in the standings with 17 points from seven games.
SV Sunil's double strike and drag-flicks from Jamie Dwyer and Christopher Ciriello, all coming in the first quarter, were enough to earn Warriors full five points. Wizards' goals came from the sticks of Sander Baart, Raghunath and Jeroen Hertzberger. Playing away, the Warriors got off to a thrilling start.
A brilliant combined team attack was converted into a goal by an ever alert Sunil in the second minute to put the visitors 1-0 ahead. Two minutes later, Sunil doubled the Punjab side's scoreline with a superb effort. From the onset, the Warriors kept on attacking the Wizards' defence, which rattled the UP side. Another smart move in the eighth minute earned Warriors their first penalty corner of the game, and Australian Dwyer was spot on with his drag-flick, increasing the visitors' lead.
Trailing by three goals, the Wizards began to find their feet back slowly. In the 11th minute, the hosts made a clever move and Baart managed to put Wizards on the scoreboard with a neat strike. But the Wizards' hopes of making a strong comeback were thrashed by the visitors four minutes later. Another good move earned Warriors their second penalty corner, and this time it was the turn of Ciriello to score with a powerful drag-flick, and restore the visitors' three-goal lead.
It turned out to be the busiest first quarter of the tournament so far as the opening 17-and-a-half minutes witnessed as many as five goals. Wizards came up with a positive frame of mind in the second quarter, but they were not able to really put pressure on the Warriors' defence.
To its credit, the Warriors' defence held on well to deny the hosts any clear opportunities. Dharamvir Singh and Dwyer created some opportunities for the Warriors to increase their lead even further, but were denied by some quality goalkeeping. The third quarter also turned out to be barren, with both teams trying to keep possession.
By the end of the third quarter, the Warriors had earned four more penalty corners, but were unable to score from any of them. With just five minutes left in the match, it looked like a comfortable win for the Warriors, but there were more twists in store.
Wizards earned a penalty corner in the 65th minute and skipper Raghunath hit an unstoppable drag-flick to reduce UP's deficit. Much to the delight of the crowd, Wizards' man in form Hertzberger made it 3-4 for the hosts, with a quality goal a few minutes later. Hertzberger got a bouncing ball in the right flank, which he calmly controlled and then smacked past the Warriors goalkeeper to keep the game alive.
The Wizards applied a lot of pressure in the final three minutes, but the Warriors' defence held on well to earn full points for the visitors. In their next home match, UP Wizards will take on Dabur Mumbai Magicians on February 2 at the Dhyan Chand Astroturf Stadium here, while the Punjab Warriors will play Ranchi Rhinos at the Surjit Singh Hockey Stadium in Jalandhar on February 4.