Punjab search for win in Ranchi to reach HIL semis
A win will not only confirm Punjab a place in the semis but also take them past Ranchi on the points table.
Ranchi: The Punjab Warriors are just four points away from confirming themselves a place in the semi-finals of the Hockey India League (HIL) and Jamie Dwyer will hope he and his boys can nail it on Saturday with a win against the league's second best team, Ranchi Rhinos.
Just four points separate third-ranked Punjab (25) and Ranchi (29), who - along with Delhi Waveriders (39) - are already through to the last four. And if Punjab win on Saturday, they will not only move into the semis but also leapfrog Ranchi on the points table.
Ranchi, who were humbled 5-2 by Delhi in their last match, have hit a slightly complacent note, which will give Punjab a lot of heart going into the match. The hosts' defence crumbled badly against the tournament's best team on Friday, conceding two soft goals early in the match that never allowed them to make a comeback. Punjab will hope their strikers, especially Dwyer, Shivendra Singh and SV Sunil, can exploit that chink in the Ranchi armour to tame the Rhinos for the first time in the tournament.
Punjab have hit an upswing in the latter part of the league stage, including a four-match unbeaten run which was broken by Delhi. But the team recovered from that loss in the very next match in which they beat Mumbai. However, team's foreign recruits, especially Australians Dwyer, Mark Knowles and Simon Orchard, haven't yet exhibited the skills they are known for. Having said that, this could be the most opportune moment for the big names to rise to the occasion and provide the thrust team needs to qualify for the semis.
Ranchi, who have been vociferously supported by the home crowd throughout the tournament, can't repeat the mistake of not starting with Spaniard Francisco Cortes in the goal post. They started with Sushant Tirkey against Delhi and paid for it when the Odisha custodian committed schoolboy mistakes to concede two soft goals.
The hosts will also look up to striker Mandeep Singh, who is second on the goal-scoring chart with six strikes to his name. He was slightly off colour in the deflating loss to Delhi but will hope to bring the team back to winning ways along with skipper Moritz Fuerste before the all important semi-finals.