Ranchi: The battle for the top spot in the Hockey India League (HIL) is a hot chase at this point and the last match between Ranchi Rhinos and Uttar Pradesh Wizards before the second break in the tournament at the Astroturf Stadium to be played here on Thursday could set the tempo for the remainder of this tournament.
The Wizards have upped the ante having won two and drawn two of their four matches and are trailing league leaders Delhi Waveriders by three points. The Rhinos, on the other hand, have lost steam after making a rousing start to their campaign and would love to register a victory over the visitors before flying to Lucknow for a return fixture 48 hours later.
The Wizards had to survive many anxious moments during their 2-2 draw against Punjab Warriors Tuesday and are indebted to Australian custodian George Bazeley who helped them stay in the hunt before skipper V.R. Raghunath salvaged two points with his drag flicks. The India international has recovered well from a slow start and has already scored four goals of the team's seven goals in the tournament.
The forward line of Teun de Nooijer, Tushar Khandker, S.K. Uthappa and Jeroen Hertzberger have started to gel well and it would be interesting to see if they can convert the ball possession into goals, something they haven't managed in the first four games. While the Wizards must be worried about the lack of goals from their forward line, the Rhinos need to quickly find a solution to their penalty corner conversion woes and the lack of goals from their foreign recruits.
Captain Moritz Fuerste and Dutchman Floris Evers have been impressive with their passing but had it not been for some effective poaching from Mandeep Singh, the team would have struggled to push enough forward to pounce on the hopeful crosses inside the striking circle. Ranchi Rhinos co-coach Baljit Singh Saini said, "Uttar Pradesh Wizards is a challenging team to play against, and we need to be cautious about giving them opportunities for penalty corners since their conversion rate is very high. Having said that, the youngsters in our team having been performing really well and I am sure we will give the away team a hard time on the field."
Raghunath said, "Ranchi Rhinos are playing two back-to-back games and we will try to take advantage of this. With 14 points on board, we stand second on the points table. We have a great momentum going for us right now. The entire team is performing well and we are looking forward to keep this momentum going and convert it into positive results in tomorrow's game."