India rode on a brace of goals by forward Mandeep Singh to fight back brilliantly from a two-goal deficit and prevail 4-3 against New Zealand in the opening match of the FIH Pro League Season 4 at the Kalinga Stadium here on Friday.
It was a lionhearted performance from the Indians as they went ahead early in the first quarter but were staring down the barrel as the Black Sticks scored once in the second quarter and twice in the third to make it 3-1. The Indians played attacking hockey with a lot of cohesion and defended superbly as they came back despite being a man down for 10 minutes in the third quarter.
Mandeep Singh scored in the 51st and 56th minutes while Harmanpreet Singh (41st min) and Mandeep Mor (13th min) scored for India, while for New Zealand, Sam Lane scored a brace in the 22nd and 35th minutes while Jake Smith contributed a goal in the 34th minute.
The two teams were evenly matched when it came to shots at goal with India having nine and New Zealand having 11. The Black Sticks however earned 11 penalty corners as compared to only 1 for India.
New Zealand are playing in the FIH Pro League after missing two seasons because of Covid-19 travel restrictions. However, they came out fighting and nearly won the tough encounter against the hosts.
However, it was Mandeep Mor who put India ahead in the first quarter as he converted a field goal in the 13th minute. New Zealand had to wait till the 22nd minute to level score as they earned a penalty stroke and Sam Lane stepped up to beat Kishan Pathak in the goal. The two teams created several chances but they stayed 1-1 at half-time.
Jake Smith made it 2-1 for New Zealand when he scored at the start of the third quarter in the 34th minute and a minute later, the Black Sticks seemed on their way to victory when Sam Lane scored his second goal to make it 3-1.
The Indian fight back started when Mandeep Singh was brought down by a defender just as he shaped up to take a shot at the goal and India were handed a penalty stroke. Harmanpreet Singh stepped up to convert the stroke to make it 2-3 for India.
Graham Reid’s wards kept up the pressure but the New Zealand defence thwarted them on two occasions. Their troubles were compounded when midfielder Sumit was shown a yellow card and sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes as it was his second offense of the match.
New Zealand tried to take advantage of the extra person on the field and launched some good attacks, one of which earned them two back-to-back penalty corners. However, the second one was saved by Goalkeeper of the Year PR Sreejesh.
India continued to attack in the fourth quarter and Mandeep Singh got into the attack when deflected in a pass from Mandeep Mor to make it 3-3.
In the next minute, Dilpreet Singh had a chance of giving India the lead but his shot was saved by the New Zealand goalkeeper.
With just four minutes remaining on the clock, Manpreet Singh gave India the lead by scoring a crucial goal off a solo effort. The seasoned forward from Punjab made a superb run from the 23-yard line, got into the shooting circle showing the defenders a clean pair of heels and shot past the goalkeeper.
New Zealand pulled out their goalkeeper to add an extra attacker but the Indians defended well. The Black Caps bagged a couple of penalty corners in the last minute but failed to score as goalkeeper Kishan Pathak palmed out a strong drag flick.
India thus could not be denied a memorable come-from-behind win that set them off on a winning note in the FIH Pro League cluster in which Spain is the third team.
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