The smile on Chandigarh Comets' head coach Harendra Singh said it all. Comets had launched their campaign in the inaugural edition of the Bridgestone World Series Hockey with a defeat to Bhopal Badshahs at the same venue almost a month back, but on Wednesday they became the second team in the league to be guaranteed a place in the semi-finals.
In a humdinger here at the Sector 42 Hockey Stadium on Wednesday, Comets beat Mumbai Marines 4-3. For the first time there is a team hot on the heels of Sher-E-Punjab as Comets are now behind them on only goal average but with equal points (25 from 13 Matchs). They will be cautious in their last league match, which could decide whom they meet in the semis.
Comets, known for striking early goals to put their rivals on the backfoot, deployed the same strategy against the Marines with success but the visitors came back strongly to neutralise their three-goal lead. Hwoever, Robert Green struck the winner from what appeared to be an abortive penalty corner a minute before the hooter, to give the Comets a famous victory and full points.Â Â
Earlier, the Comets got a dream start when winger Ramandeep Singh tapped in a cross from the right flank as early as three minutes. Thereafter, Devinder Walmiki, with his brlliant interceptions, came in their way to deny them any further leeway.
Penalty-corner expert Gurjinder Singh, after failing three times against Walmiki's athleticism and anticipation, finally found a way past Walmiki to enhance the lead.
The Marines forwards came charging in the second quarter, and penetrated Comets' territory with vengeance, but the fitter and faster hosts overcrowded them to deny any elbow room.
Comets replied every Marines' surge with a matching, if not more, aggressive counter attack, often coming close to scoring. Sharp-shooter Amir Khan fittingly deflected an Adrian D'Souza rebound to post what at that juncture appeared an assailable 3-0 lead.
However, one of the young finds of the WSH, Vanmali Xess cut a high feed that came his way in the middle of the circle, and then as the ball was falling, he whacked it high to bring life into the contest.
The sharp and shrewd Troy Sutherland reduced the scoreline when in a quick reflex action, he picked up a fast-moving ball that came after a fellow forward unsuccessfully tried to control a high ball, and cut its direction and velocity to bang in the middle of the net. Sutherland's superb goal set the pace with each side leaving no stone unturned to test the goal.
Marines, who missed three penalty corners, used the fourth one to finally bring parity. In the indirect penalty corner drill, Sutherland scooped the ball from close quarter, and it hit Gurjinder Singh's right leg which was overlooked by umpire Savio but the Comets got it right through referral. Ajmer Singh had no difficulty in striking the ball home. The remaining 15 minutes witnessed brilliant hockey from both sides. Green then came on gamely to provide the spark that the Comets needed to script another great win.