Ranchi Rays look like the team to beat heading into the semi-finals.
It’s the penultimate week of the Hockey India League (HIL) 2016 and it’s still all to play for regarding the semi-final play of places.
At the end of week 3 just seven points separated top from bottom so any team can still attain a top four finish.
Here’s what happened in the fourth week of the hockey league.
Match 21: Kalinga Lancers vs Ranchi Rays (2 – 3)
First played third in the opening tie of week 3 and it was the defending champions Ranchi Rays who emerged victorious.
The away win for the Rays meant they leapfrogged their opponents to become league leaders once more this season.
The Kalinga Lancers struck first in the 9th minute with a field goal from Dharamvir Singh to make it 2-0.
The home side took advantage of some poor defending as they worked the ball to Matthew Willis on the left wing who whipped in a cross.
It was met by Singh and the ball rolled over the goal line despite the best efforts of a defender who attempted to make a field goal saving block.
Ranchi replied a couple of minutes later via a penalty corner that was expertly dispatched by Captain Ashley Jackson getting the Rays on the scoreboard, 2-1.
In the final minutes of the game, Imran Khan of the Rays put his team in front through a fantastic field goal.
He picked up the ball at the edge of the D, skilfully weaved past two incoming defenders and rifled a tomahawk shot into the right side of the goal. The match ended 2-3.
Match 22: Delhi Waveriders vs Dabang Mumbai (3 – 8)
In a tie between the bottom two, Dabang made it three wins on the trot with an impressive away victory against fellow strugglers Delhi Waveriders.
The hosts drew first blood in the 22nd minute through a field goal by Steven Edwards.
Mumbai gave the ball away very cheaply in the final third and they were punished for it as the resulting through ball into the centre of the D was inch perfect.
Edwards controlled the ball nicely and steered the ball underneath the body of the inbound goalkeeper, 2-0.
The home side then added to their lead when they won a penalty corner in the 39th minute that was thunderbolted home by Rupinder Pal Singh, 3-0.
Astoundingly, Dabang Mumbai scored four field goals in the fourth quarter.
The first of the quadrat was Danish Mujtaba’s in the 49th minute. The ball was struck into the right-side of the D at pace and Mujtaba touch deft touch angled the ball goal bound, 3-2.
Nilkanta Sharma got his name on the score sheet after he hit the ball mid-air to loft the ball over the keeper into the top right corner, 3-4.
The dejected Waveriders were the recipients of a Manpreet quickfire double wammy in the 57th and 58th minute.
In the 57th minute Mumbai attacked at pace down the left hand side through Gurjan who found himself at the bi-line.
He scooped the ball past one defender, put in a cross that was blocked by the goalkeeper’s left leg and Manpreet was at hand for a snapshot rebound, 3-6.
Manpreet’s second was a special finish. He and Florian Fuchs charge forward and the German unselfishly passed the ball to the Indian whose tomahawk finish was very easy on the eyes, 3-8.
Match 23: Uttar Pradesh Wizards vs Jaypee Punjab Warriors (4 – 1)
After four consecutive home defeats the Uttar Pradesh Wizards gave their crowd a performance they could be proud of as they beat Jaypee Punjab Warriors in their last home fixture of the season.
It was the visitors who broke the deadlock in the 10th minute via a penalty corner. Mark Gleghorne made absolutely no mistake driving the ball high into the top left corner, 0-1.
The Wizards responded with a penalty corner of their own in the 19th minute. Argentine Gonazlo Peillat levelling the score line, 1-1.
Peillat scored another penalty corner in the third quarter; the Argentine who is studying Architecture at Buenos Aires cemented his team’s victory, 2-1.
A 43rd minute tomahawk field goal from the Wizard’s Agustin Mazilli was struck from the unlikeliest of angles.
Mazilli was given far too much space at the right side of the D and he emphatically took advantage of the lack of pressure., 4-1.
Match 24: Delhi Waveriders vs Ranchi Rays (7 – 4)
The Waveriders secured an unlikely victory against the Ranchi Rays in what was a hard fought affair.
In the 7th minute the Waveriders took the lead via Mandeep Singh who peeled off his marker and directed a driven pass into the back of the goal, 2-0.
The Waveriders were awarded a penalty corner in the 13th minute and after three attempts o goal Talvinder Singh finally converted.
After two blocked efforts Talvinder played the ball into the turf bouncing it over the keepers outstretched left arm, 3-0.
Talvinder Singh struck once more in the 19th minute with a great dink at the near post giving the hosts a massive 5-0 lead.
Ranchi scored a much needed field goal via their talisman Ashley Jackson in the 35th minute. Yet another spectacular tomahawk strike for this week which took the score to 5-2.
Mandeep got his second of the match in the 42nd minute who was perfectly positioned to pounce on an airborne rebound, 7-2.
Ranchi attained what was to be a consolation field goal in 50th minute through Trent Mitton. Another tomahawk goal; this week is just full of them! The match ended 7-4.
Match 25: Dabang Mumbai vs Jaypee Punjab Warriors (1 – 5)
Dabang Mumbai were back to losing ways after they were thrashed at home by the Jaypee Punjab Warriors.
The away side scored three consecutive penalty corners in the 2nd, 13th and 26th minute making it 0-3 by half time.
Nithin Thimmaiah then scored field goal in the 41st minute which brought the score line to an unassailable 0-5. Thimmaiah struck a bouncing cross on the half volley across the face of goal.
The away side were unable to keep their clean sheet as Jeremy Hayward converted a penalty corner for Mumbai in the fourth quarter.
Match 26: Ranchi Rays vs Uttar Pradesh Wizards (6 – 0)
The Ranchi Rays became the first team to book themselves into a semi-final spot with their fourth consecutive home win this season.
The Rays opened the scoring in the 10th minute. A great team goal saw Middleton square the ball to Flynn Ogilvie and the goal was put on a silver platter for him, 2-0.
The home side doubled their lead in the 47th minute when the familiar face of Ashley Jackson scored his third field goal of the tournament making it 4-0.
The hosts sealed victory in the 59th minute after Amir’s reverse hit cross found Sumit Kumar whose diving finish giving Ranchi Rays a huge 6-0 win.
Match 27: Ranchi Rays vs Dabang Mumbai (1-0)
Ranchi Rays are looking like the team to beat heading into the semi-finals. Another win extends their lead at the top of the table to 10 points.
The solitary point of the game was claimed by Mr. Reliable, Captain Ashley Jackson, who converted a penalty corner five minutes into the third quarter.
As we end week 3 of the hockey, the Ranchi Rays are certainly eclipsing their peers but the final three play-off places are anyone’s to claim.