Shers in a fix as Strykers draw 3-3
Late burst from Bikas Topo, Gurpreet spoils the hosts show
Star striker Deepak Thakur regained his wonted form and usually unstoppable Prabhjot Singh helped home side Sher-e-Punjab build a comfortable lead but were forced to settle for a 3-3 draw with the hitherto undefeated Pune Strykers in the Bridgestone World Series Hockey at the Olympian Surjit Hockey stadium here on Sunday.
The first match of Day Five had all the trappings of a great encounter, and turned out to be so with either side fighting tooth and nail till the hooter.
Tornado striker that Deepak Thakur was, and still is a cynosure of all eyes on his home ground giving finishing touches to the early onslaught of Shers but young Bikas Toppo too emulated the senior in coming with a similar brace of goals late in the play time.
Matches of this nature make hockey our national passion and this match was one such.
Deepak, who seemed to miss some easy opportunities in the beginning, recovered quickly to put Shers in an unassailable position with two sharp goals in the second minute of the first quarter and then two minutes before the second.
Prabhjot Singh, besides setting up Deepak, struck once in the first minute of fourth quarter.
The first two Deepak’s goals coming amidst panic, Pune defence had obviously unsettled the Pune team that entered the Jalandhar field against the backdrop of winning previous two tight matches. Its the forwardline of Shers, consisting of Matthews, Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot Singh that doused the Pune’s heat before it spread wild fire in Jalandhar.
The story would have been different had a Bikas’ forehand that he effortlessly punched in the first minute of second quarter, found home. The whiplash of a shot just missed the right post much to the chagrin of the Pune side.
Third quarter entirely belonged to Pune. Mario Almada, who was sparingly used till now, came on his known and together with gangling youngster Vikas Pillay wove cobwebs around Sher’s defence. Shers wall often cracked and started conceding penalty corners.
Gurpreet converted first of the five penalty corners Pune earned in the third quarter. His knee high drag flick hit a defenders stick and found home (1-2). Gurpreet’s first goal here, and over all seventh, spurred Pune to go for the onslaught. It forced itself into the circle often. As a result, it got four penalty corners successively between 48th and 51st minutes. Olympian Harpal Singh’s faulty charges made things easy for umpire Parnam Singh.
Shortly later, Prabhjot Singh drew a chasing defender and hurried goalkepper on wrong foot before whacking his patented forehand to seal his name on the scoreboard (3-1).
Even as the match was seemed to be in the pocket of Shers, Bikas Toppo infused life into the game. He bent perfectly to deflect a strong free hit of Vikas Pillay to narrow the score to 2-3 in the 60th minute. He then gave finishing touches to a brainy deflection of Mario Almada to draw level (3-3) in the 65th minute. Gurpreet took the penalty corner only to see goalie deflect and then what Almada and Bikas did was something that will be talked about for a long time, a beauty to watch.