Against the Delhi Waveriders, as they trailed 2-0 in the last four minutes, Punjab took their goalkeeper off and bolstered their attack with an extra man — a perfectly legal move, but a self-defeating one.
For even though they were a couple of goals down, Punjab were still in to take something home from the match as the tournament rules award one point to the losing team, provided the margin is two goals or less.
In sport as in warfare, a move could be a stroke of genius or a tactical blunder, depending upon its outcome, which again depends on many other external factors: wherewithal to execute a given strategy, how smart/stupid the opposition is, and, of course, luck.
And so Punjab’s Jaap Stockmann, who has smothered close to five shots on the target, sat in the dugout and coach Barry Dancer sent in Christopher Ciriello to do, perhaps, what his 10 other players hadn’t, despite a few passages of dominance: score a goal. Actually, at least two.
As Punjab pressed ahead, the Delhi forwards’ eyes must have lit up at the sight of an unguarded goal. A counterattack was all they needed. And sure enough it came. As Delhi thwarted a feeble attempt, and Punjab scampered back, the home team’s visionary skipper Sardar Singh almost intuitively found Simon Child lurking on the edge of opposition circle with a long pass.
Knowing there was no custodian, appearing larger than life in hockey pads, to block the target, the sturdy New Zealander took aim, summoned every ounce of his power, and let one rip - more of a tee shot than a hockey strike. The outstretched sticks of two Punjab defender didn’t stand a chance as the ball made a bulge in the roof of the goal. With this third goal, it was Delhi five points, Punjab nil.
Jagbir, who took the fall for 12 men last time, stepped forward to field the questions. “We wanted to go all out and get at least two goals. Sometimes you take risk and it doesn’t pay off,” he said.
Captain Jamie Dwyer was dumfounded. “You should as the coach about it (the decision to take the goalkeeper off). I just hope this one point doesn’t cost us a place in the semi-final,” he said.
It’s unlikely, however, for in a tournament of five teams, one needs to try too hard to miss out on last four spots — and at the moment, it’s Mumbai who are making all the efforts in that direction. Punjab are third in the table with 20 points in 8 matches, behind Delhi (32 in 7) and Ranchi (27 in 7). UP are fourth with (17 in 7 games) while Mumbai have just 7 points from as many games. But with four more matches to play, Mumbai are not out of it yet. And Punjab aren’t quite safe.
While Punjab lost the one point in the last four minutes, it was in the previous 66 minutes that they did the other four. Their ball trapping was sloppy, especially inside the circle, and SV Sunil alone missed three clear chances, with an open goal at his mercy.
On the other hand, Delhi seemed to have cracked HIL’s code like no other team. They overwhelm their rivals with early attacks and invariably take the lead. After that, the opposition play on their terms. On Tuesday as well they made their intent clear, with a penalty corner in the 12th minute. Rupinder Pal Singh couldn’t even take a drag-flick after Tim Jenniskens botched up the stop.
It didn’t matter, as after collecting a pass inside Punjab’s D, Akashdeep Singh, with his back to the goal, dribbled away from three yellow shirts before whacking a wonderful reverse-hit that the Punjab goalkeeper had no answer to. Punjab enjoyed superior ball possession in the second and third quarters, but couldn’t make it count. In fact they conceded a penalty corner and a goal. Against Delhi in this form, such let offs invariably return to haunt.
Mumbai face UP-HIL task
Winless Mumbai Magicians will take on fourth-placed Uttar Pradesh Wizards in their third home game at the MHA Mahindra Stadium. The first leg clash between these two bottom-placed teams offers the best chance for the struggling hosts to break their seven-game losing streak. Meanwhile Delhi and Ranchi will also meet in a battle of the table-toppers.
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