Uttar Pradesh Wizards produced a spirited performance Sunday to register a 3-2 come-from-behind win over title holders Ranchi Rhinos to start their campaign on a resounding note at the second edition of the Hero Hockey India League (HHIL) here.
The Wizards, who finished third in the inaugural HHIL last year, twice came from a goal down to shock the home team.
It was Ranchi Rhinos who started the match on a positive note and took the lead in the fourth minute through their star striker Mandeep Singh who found himself at the right place at the right time to slot the ball home to register his first goal of HHIL 2014.
The Rhinos were the aggressive among the two sides and controlled the proceedings in the early part of the match.
But Uttar Pradesh Wizards did not sit back and equalised in the 10th minute through Nikkin Thimmaiah, who deflected home after trapping the ball at the goalmouth.
The Wizards got a golden opportunity to take the lead minutes later from their first penalty corner but Francisco Cortes came up with a fine save to deny captain V.R. Raghunath and both teams ended the first quarter of 17-and-a-half minutes tied at 1-1.
In the second quarter, both teams tried hard and were able to create a few bright opportunities but they failed to convert the chances into goals as they went into halftime locked at one-goal apiece.
The break seemed to have worked wonders for the Wizards as they looked more purposeful and threatened the Ranchi goal with constant raids.
But it was the Rhinos who once again surged ahead, when Justin Reid Ross beautifully converted their second penalty corner to the left of Wizards’ Malaysian goalkeeper Kumar Subramaniam in the 46th minute.
However, it did not take long for the Wizards to draw level for the second time in the match. V.R. Raghunath (51st minute) precisely executed a penalty corner five minutes later to the level the score at 2-2.
The fourth and final quarter belonged to the visitors, as Pradeep Mor scored a classy field goal with a brilliant hit from top of the circle in the 63rd minute to stun the packed crowd present at the 6,000-capacity Astroturf Hockey Stadium here.
By virtue of this win, the Roelant Oltmans-coached Uttar Pradesh Wizards pocketed five points, while the Rhinos will have to be content with one point as according to the rules of the tournament a defeat with a goal difference of two or less goals will give the losing side one point.
A triumphant Roelant Oltmans said the team played well though many players were new.
“I could see team effort on the ground which helped us convert chances. I do not have any strategy in place for the subsequent matches and will strategise one at a time. Our aim is to perform better than the opponent without putting much pressure on the team,” he said.