Bhubaneswar: Hosts Kalinga Lancers started this year's Hero Hockey India League with a bang by defeating newcomers Ranchi Rays 6-3 in a high-scoring inaugural match of the third edition of the tournament in front of a capacity crowd at Kalinga Stadium here yesterday.
The best part about Lancers' display today was that they scored five goals through field efforts while one came from penalty corner. They had finished last in their debut season last year. Lucas Villa (3rd minute), Ryan Archibald (17th), skipper Vikram Kanth (18th), Gurjinder Singh (37th), Mandeep Antil (58th) and Mohd Amir Khan (60th) were the goal scorers for the winners.
For Ranchi Rays, captain Ashley Jackson (36th, 50th) converted two penalty corners and Barry Middleton (14th) scored the other from a field effort. Under new coach Jude Felix, the Lancers looked more organised and started on a positive note with some impressive runs into the rival citadel. Egged on by a vociferous home crowd, the Lancers took the lead in the third minute through Villa, who scored with a nice lob over Ranchi custodian Lovell Tyler's head from a counter-attack.
The Lancers continued to attack after surging ahead and in the process earned three penalty corners in succession, two of which was wasted by Argentine Gonzalo Peillat and the third was not stopped properly. The Rays played well in patches at least in the first two quarters but managed to draw level in the 14th minute when
Englishman Barry Middleton scored with a reverse hit from a tight angle to end the opening quarter at 1-1 scoreline.
The Lancers, however, restored their lead from the very first move after the resumption of play when Archibald found the back of the Rays' net with a reverse shot from the left corner of the goal. Captain Vikram Kanth scored again for the Lancers in the very next minute with a field goal to go into midway break with a comfortable 3-1 lead.
But the Rays, who were shaky in the opening two quarters, came out with more purpose and looked far more threatening after the change of ends. The visitors went into the attack and managed to pull one back when Jackson perfectly converted a short corner in the 36th minute. The Lancers restored their lead again in the very next
minute through Gurjinder from a set piece.
Trailing by two goals, the Ranchi outfit came all out attacking in the fourth and final quarters and earned two penalty corners in quick succession, the second of which was utilized by Jackson to score his second goal of the day in the 50th minute. Rays had a good chance of drawing parity soon when they earned another penalty corner, but this time Jackson's try was saved by Andrew Charter in front of Lancers' goal.
With the Ranchi side full on attacking mode, the Lancers hit the visitors hard in counters as they scored two quick goals in the final few minutes of the game to seal the match in their favour. First, Antil scored with a brilliant diving effort from Russel Ford's diagonal pass from the left and then Amir drew the final nail in Rays coffin just at the stroke of hooter with a fine field goal. The Rays will next face another new team Dabang Mumbai in Mumbai on Saturday, while the Lancers will travel to Mohali to play Jaypee Punjab Warriors on Sunday.