Chandigarh: Jake Whetton's second minute field strike was enough to hand Jaypee Punjab Warriors a 2-0 victory over defending champions Ranchi Rays in the Coal India Hockey India League (HIL) at the International Hockey Stadium here on Tuesday.
In the rematch of last year's final, centre-half Sardar Singh assisted Whetton as the hosts made the most of a quick counter-attack early in the match.
After a failed attack, Ranchi were caught napping with even most of their defenders yet to return in their circle. Sardar fed Australian Whetton from the right and the Australian dodged an onrushing and diving goalkeeper Tyler Lovell to slot home an open field goal, that is counted as two in this edition.
Even though it was the first outing for both the sides, Warriors looked a more cohesive unit as compared to Rays. While 2014 World Player of the Year Mark Knowles was as assured as ever at the back, the troika of Man-of-the-Match Whetton, S.V. Sunil and captain Sardar Singh had a very good game, tormenting Rays at every opportunity.
After Whetton's strike, the visitors got a chance to open their goal account in the 18th minute but skipper Ashley Jackson's flick was not enough to beat goalkeeper Tristian Clemons.
In another good opportunity, Jackson's slap inside the circle was met with lethargic attempts as they trailed by two goals after half-time.
After the change of ends, Warriors upped the ante and earned three penalty corners but failed to cash in. In the first penalty corner, Whetton's flick hit the right post before the second one went wayward. In the dying minutes of the third quarter, Australian Christopher Ciriello too wasted a penalty corner opportunity as Warriors led 2-0.
In the final quarter, Rays threw everything they could with Mohammed Amir Khan, Berry Middleton, Tim Deavin and Daniel Beale lunging forward with threatening intent but they failed to score, resulting in a 0-2 defeat.
In the next match on Wednesday, Warriors host last year's bronze medallist Delhi Waveriders, while Rays travel to Lucknow to face Uttar Pradesh Wizards on Friday.
Goal-scorer, 24-year-old Whetton not only thanked Sardar for the assist but also felt the defence line put up a good show.
"It was good that Sardar provided the ball in time (to me) and I was there at the right place for the goal. Also, we put up a very good defensive performance as well, so it was a good win," Whetton, who collected Rs.50,000 for the Player of the Match award, said at the post-match presentation ceremony.