Two field goals from Manpreet Singh saw Ranchi Rays thrash Delhi Waveriders 6-2 in their Hockey India League (HIL) encounter at the Shivaji Stadium here last evening.
Ranchi Rays had their task cut out as securing a semi-final berth would mean they would have to beat the Delhi Waveriders by a margin of eight goals or more.
They did get off to a roaring start, vying to fetch that target, with Manpreet Singh not only winning the first penalty corner for Ranchi Rays but also earned their first field goal in the 9th minute. It was Christopher Ruhr's clever assist that saw Manpreet tap the ball into the goal when they tried a different set piece to take a 2-0 lead.
It seemed like the visitors would extend the lead further when Barry Middleton put the ball past Delhi Waveriders' goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch but the goal was overturned after an umpire referral that went in favour of Delhi Waveriders. The ball, unfortunately, came off the back of the stick when Imran Khan assisted Middleton from within the striking circle. The first quarter continued to be dramatic when Middleton was denied another field goal since the ball, from defender Gurbaj Singh, had already crossed the goal line before Middleton got his stick on it.
The second quarter witnessed entertaining action between the two teams, keeping the packed audience at the Shivaji Stadium on their feet. Both teams traded penalty corners in this quarter. While the Delhi Waveriders had failed to convert two attempts thus far, the Ranchi Rays tried innovative variations to convert their penalty corners into a field goal. As per the new rules, one field goal counts as two goals and Ranchi Rays needed them to stay on target. However, both Ashley Jackson and Christopher Ruhr's attempts didn't find the net.
Ranchi Rays made an aggressive start soon after the half-time break. Though they weren't successful at converting a penalty corner they earned in the 31st minute, Manpreet Singh rallied back to score a goal in the 32nd minute, taking their lead to 4-0.
The Delhi Waveriders' defence was further exposed when Ranchi Rays' Imran Khan put one past Vanasch after a selfless assist by Christopher Ruhr who did well to beat the defender and find Khan. The 37th minute goal helped the Ranchi Rays inch closer to the magical number with a 6-0 lead. But Justin Reid-Ross spoiled the Ranchi Rays' party when he scored a field goal in the 45th minute. They also won a penalty corner in the dying minute of the third quarter but could not make much of it, ending the quarter with the score reading 6-2 in favour of the visitors.
It was a nail-biting final quarter with Ranchi Rays pressing hard. Goalkeeper Akash Chikte, who replaced Tyler Lovell at the post, was impressive as he denied a field goal for the home team in the 52nd minute. Though the Ranchi Rays played fast-paced final quarter, it did seem like fatigue was catching on and Delhi Waveriders capitalised on it with better ball possesion and circle entries.
Though they didn't convert the chances, they also denied any further lead for the visiting team.
Despite the defeat, Delhi Waveriders booked their place in the semi-finals of the tournament.
The next clash will be held between Uttar Pradesh Wizards and Dabang Mumbai at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium in Lucknow later today.