What a difference 24 hours makes! Tuesday evening, Delhi Waveriders coach Cedric D’Souza was pleading for some divine intervention as his team lost its first home match of the 2017 Hockey India League season to remain winless after four games and at the bottom of the points ladder.
It seemed all his prayers were answered on the same day as the previously goal-shy Waveriders thrashed Uttar Pradesh Wizards 8-1 at the Shivaji Stadium on Wednesday, scoring as many as four field goals with a splendid display of counter-attacking hockey.
Young forward Mandeep Singh, who had failed to avail the several opportunities he got against Jaypee Punjab Warriors, made amends in style, scoring two of them and setting up another.
Waveriders’ first win of the season helped them climb up from the bottom of the table, at the expense of their opponents on Wednesday, and will also give them heart and confidence ahead of their remaining five matches, most of which are at home.
On the other hand, the Wizards, coached by Indian team handler Roelant Oltmans, disappointed with their insipid performance. They were not short of star power with the likes of veterans PR Sreejesh and VR Raghunath, as well as the national team’s forward pairing of Akashdeep Singh and Ramandeep Singh in their ranks.
Rio Olympics gold medallists Agustin Mazzilli and Gonzalo Peillat and Aussie Edward Ockenden also could not make much of an impact.
After the blanks fired in front of goal on Tuesday, getting one early was key for the hosts, and they got exactly that in the fourth minute.
Mandeep showed his pace and skill after receiving a through ball out of defence, ran past the three defenders in attendance, entered the striking circle, and beat Sreejesh with a powerful low reverse hit.
Waveriders skipper Rupinder Pal Singh has been strangely off-colour with his drag-flicks this season, and after missing three direct attempts on Tuesday, he passed on the duty to South African teammate Justin Reid-Ross. But their luck with penalty corners did not improve, as they could not make the two they earned count.
The Wizards have two top drag-flickers themselves, and when Peillat couldn’t convert the first two for his side, Raghunath stepped up and found the top of the cage just before the first quarter came to an end.
The visitors had the better of the exchanges in the second period, but their strike pairing failed to capitalise. Waveriders custodian Vincent Vanasch made a brilliant save when another Raghunath thunderbolt of a drag-flick seemed destined for the top corner.
The match took a decisive turn in favour of the hosts just seconds before half time. Argentine Manuel Brunet’s reverse hit was parried by Sreejesh, but in the ensuing goalmouth melee, Mandeep was at his opportunistic best to turn the ball home and put his team 4-1 up.
The Wizards needed a good third quarter to make a comeback, but were distinctly second-best. Their ball control and passing accuracy left a lot to be desired. The Waveriders showed more intensity as the match went on and were first to almost every loose ball. As the match entered its final stage, Oltmans’ men had no option but to throw caution to the winds and go on all-out attack. It is here that they were picked off by the efficient Waveriders on the break.
The result was put beyond doubt with three minutes left when Mandeep latched on to a clearance and passed on to the unmarked Parvinder Singh to make it 6-1.
The Wizards’ heads had begun to drop by now and only a minute later, South African Austin Smith completed their humiliation after a neat passing move.
“After Tuesday’s match, I had given individual players clips of what they did during the match. I wanted them to analyse their performance and learn from it,” D’Souza said after the game. “It was important to get a victory under our belt. Hopefully, it will be the first of many more to come.”