Mohali: Captain Ashley Jackson successfully converted two penalty corners in the final minute to help Ranchi Rays beat Jaypee Punjab Wrriors 3-2 in a Hero Hockey India League match at the International Hockey Stadium here Tuesday.
Ashley Jackson. Pic/Ashwin Ferro
With this win in their final league game, Rays went to the top of the pool standings with 35 points from 10 matches, while Warriors have 30 points from nine matches.
Both the teams had reached the semifinals before this match along with Uttar Pradesh Wizards and defending champions Delhi Waveriders.
In Tuesday's match, home team Warriors started the first quarter aggressively and pushed Rays behind. Warriors managed to earn their first penalty corner in the ninth minute and veteran drag-flicker Sandeep Singh didn't give any chance to Rays' Australian goalkeeper Tyler Lovell.
Warriors, coached by Barry Dancer, got another chance in the 15th minute when they earned two back-to-back penalty corners and they converted their second attempt to make it 2-0. Australian forward Kieren Govers took the first shot but was foiled by the goalie. Australian defender Christopher Ciriello received the second shot and he sent the ball straight into the net.
In the second quarter, Rays improved their game and managed to keep the ball in their control. The visitors kept charging on the opponents' half and both the teams fought hard to dominate the quarter.
Warriors' forwards S.V. Sunil, Jake Whetton, Govers and Affan Yousuf tried hard to create opportunities to score more goals but they faced stiff challenge from Rays defenders Kothajit Singh, Birendra Lakra, South African Justin Reid-Ross and Australian Fergus Kavanagh.
Rays opened their account in the 26th minute when Jackson fired a grounder to reduce the margin to one to end the end the second quarter 1-2.
Rays continued to impress and improve in the third quarter. They earned a penalty corner via striker Barry Middleton but defender Gurmail Singh snatched it away from Englishman Jackson.
In the fourth and last quarter, Warriors upped the ante and earned three back-to-back penalty corners but Rays displayed their mettle and thwarted all the attempts. Warriors' Yousuf and Orchard mounted further pressure but Rays did not allow them to run free.
Trailing 1-2 till the 59th minute, Rays earned a penalty corner as South African Austin Smith's attempt at the goal was blocked. Captain Jackson fired to the left side of goalkeeper Stockmaan to get the equaliser.
The second goal lifted the morale of Rays and in a fierce counter-attack, Middleton was tripped inside the circle by Stockmaan that led to a penalty corner. Jackson again rocketed it to the left of Jackson only to trigger bow-and-arrow celebration inside his camp.
With this hat-trick by Jackson, Rays defeated Warriors for the second time in this year's edition.
"We are very happy to win our second match against Warriors. This was still not our best game today. They were on top of us for the large part of the game but we managed to come out on the winning side. This shows the character that this team has got," Jackson said.
"We need to learn from today's match which will stand us in good stead for the semi-finals. We will work hard on all the areas of improvement so that we can give a solid display in the semifinals."