Ranchi, 09 February 2015: As the Hero Hockey India League reaches the midway mark, the picture is almost clear which teams will play in the Semi-Finals of the world’s most prestigious hockey league. Jaypee Punjab Warriors, who have already sealed their place in the Semi-Final, will face Ranchi Rays at Ranchi tomorrow, February 10, 2015, making the first clash between the top two teams of the Points-Table and a possible pre-match of the semi-final. Jaypee Punjab Warriors is leading the table with 28 points where as Ranchi Rays is at second place with 24 points.
Ranchi Rays, who have remained unbeatable at their home ground with two draws and two wins, will face a tough challenge against the star-studded Jaypee Punjab Warriors who have specialised players in every department. Leading from the front is the top goal-scorer Sandeep Singh, who scored a hat-trick against the defending champions Delhi Waveriders in their previous match and very much specialised in penalty corners. The Barry Dancer boys will stick to their strategy of earning maximum penalty corners and leave it to Sandeep Singh to convert them. Ranchi Rays Head Coach Harendra Singh has to think out of the box to restrict Sandeep Singh from scoring goals in the penalty corners, otherwise they may have to see a disappointing score-line in the first half.
The Chandigarh-based team is also known for late strikes and scoring back-to-back goals in the fourth quarter to turn the game to their side. The best example was their tie against Delhi Waveriders in Delhi where Jaypee Punjab Warriors were trailing by 0-1 till the 50th minute of the match and their fans lost all their hopes to see any light. However, Australian star Christopher Ciriello, SV Sunil and Affan Yousuf scored three goals in just six minutes and snatch the win from the jaws of defeat. Ranchi Rays not only have to restrict penalty corners but also have to be watchful on each player for not allowing them to come back in the match.
Ranchi Rays’ only strength will be their strong defence led by Kothajit Singh and Birendra Lakra, who showed their guts against Uttar Pradesh Wizards in the last match where the Ranchi-team maintained a 1-0 clean sheet despite of having only 30% ball possession. Ranchi Rays will also be benefited from their captain Ashley Jackson’s great form, who is the second highest goal-scorer of the Hero HIL 2015 with seven goals. With a strong defense, along with Mandeep Singh, Manpreet Singh and Englishman Barry Middleton in the midfield, Ashley can do his job of scoring goals and extend the unbeaten run of the Ranchi Rays at Ranchi.
With the full strengths, both the teams will try to take their game to the next level before the Semi-Finals and the win in tomorrow’smatch will boost players’ moral who want to be in good form through-out the League.
Before the tomorrow’s match against Jaypee Punjab Warriors, Ranchi Rays Head Coach Harendra Singh said, “The team has proved in the last few matches that they are in great form. Each department is working in our favour and we will have to ensure that we continue this in our match tomorrow. We will be playing against Jaypee Punjab warriors for the first time tomorrow this season and they are also playing well in this season of the Hero Hockey India League. But this will not deter us as we will aim to register another win tomorrow and maintain our winning streak”.
Ranchi Rays Captain Ashley Jackson added, “We are motivated and confident for tomorrow’s match. We haven’t lost a single match here in our home ground and we will maintain this record. Ranchi being our home ground and fantastic support of our fans gives us confidence and we will give our best to win the match. Jaypee Punjab Warriors is a good team and they have some good players, but we have players who are in a great form also. We will only focus on improving our game and give our best to score points. We are looking forward to tomorrow’s match.”
Before tomorrow’s match, Jaypee Punjab Warriors Head Coach Barry Dancer stated, “Ranchi Rays is playing very good at their home-turf and their unbeatable record in Ranchi is really impressive. We have to think and work on their defence line, which is quite strong. We will continue with our strategies and play aggressively in tomorrow’s match to score maximum goals. Our boys are in good form and we expect a tough match tomorrow.”
Jaypee Punjab Warriors player Mark Knowles added, “Playing against a team who have a strong team-combination is challenging. Ranchi Rays also an unbeatable team at their home turf but we are in a good form and our players are scoring goals, which is positive factor for our team. We are not taking them lightly and we will play up to our strength. Our focus will be on out-foxing their defenders and create maximum opportunities to score goals. We are looking forward to tomorrow’s match.”
Ranchi Rays will play against Jaypee Punjab Warriors on 10 February 2015 at 1900 HRS IST at Astroturf Hockey Stadium in Ranchi.