Bangalore: Playing their third game in four days and their last home match, Karnataka Lions scrambled to a 3-1 win against Delhi Wizards in the World Series Hockey tournament here on Saturday.
The victory, their sixth and third in a row, took the Lions' tally to 18 from 12 matches as they face two away games in Bhopal and Chandigarh next week. The Wizards, missing an inspirational figure in the middle, slid to their sixth defeat in 11 matches and are on 13 points.
For the Lions, Ravipal Singh (eighth) scored an opportunistic goal while the hardworking Jarnail Singh (18th) and penalty corner specialist Len Aiyappa (65th) added to the tally. The Wizards, appearing rather lackadaisical, had their only moment of success in the 50th minute when Rajpal Singh's cross across the goalmouth was deflected inside by defender Abhishek Singh.
The Lions, without skipper Arjun Halappa, who received a one-match suspension after a third yellow card in the tournament, came up with an inspired performance in a must-win game while in contrast, the Wizards looked rather jaded, repeatedly fumbling, especially in the deep defence.
Karnataka were off to a fine start as Ravipal slammed home a rebound from penalty corner after goalkeeper Kamaldeep Singh blocked Aiyappa's drag-flick.
The goal saw the Lions taking the upper hand and dominating the proceedings. Past the 18th minute, Jarnail put home an Arjun Antil pass following a right-wing move to give Karnataka a 2-0 advantage that they nursed to half-time.
The Wizards did mark their presence with a few attempts at goal, but for the second night running, goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan was simply unbeatable as he brought off some fine saves.
Deep into the third quarter, Jarnail was pushed from behind by a Wizards defender and the Lions forward retaliated. Wizards forward Rajpal Singh, the former India captain, was seen gripping Jarnail by the collar and pushing him even as rival players came together.
Umpire Mark Knulle, whose supervision left a lot to be desired, flashed the red card to Jarnail, but glossed over Rajpal's aggressive gesture and also his team-mate's provocation that led to the fracas.
Almost immediately, the Lions were reduced to nine men when Ravipal was sent to the sin bin on a green card and the Wizards exploited the numerical supremacy by slotting home a goal as Rajpal's cross from the left and just inside the circle got deflected into goal by defender Abhishek Singh.
The proceedings turned rather scrappy with players frequently getting tangled up as the old bad habits surfaced. Fortunately, nothing untoward occurred.
A little over four minutes from close, the Lions forced two penalty corners in quick succession and off the second, Aiyappa flicked to the boards for an indirect conversion.
In the dying moments, the Wizards pressed hard, but the Lions were not to be disturbed as they defended quite competently to emerge deserving winners.