Ace drag-flicker Sandeep Singh's hat-trick went in vain as table toppers Delhi Waveriders eked out a close 4-3 win over Mumbai Magicians in a thrilling round-robin match to continue their dream run in the ongoing Hockey India League in New Delhi on Saturday.
With this victory at the floodlit Major Dhyan Chand Stadium, the Waveriders have consolidated their position at the top of the league standings with 27 points from six games, five points ahead of second-placed Ranchi Rhinos.
On the other hand, the Magicians' dismal campaign in the inaugural HIL continued as the Mumbai side slumped to their sixth consecutive defeat in the five-team event.
In spite of this loss, the Magicians are theoretically still in the hunt for a semi-final berth but they need something magical in their remaining six games to make it to the knock-out stage.
For the Waveriders, South African Lloyd Norris Jones scored two goals (12th minute, 22nd), while Imran Khan (6th) and Rupinder Pal Singh (51st) found target once each. Sandeep (28th, 56th, 66th) scored all the three goals for the Magicians from penalty corners.
The Magicians started the match on a bright note and enjoyed a good share of possession in the early stages of the matches before losing the steam.
As expected, it was the in-form Waveriders who seized the initiative in the first quarter by pumping in two goals against an out-of-sorts Mumbai defence.
Imran gave Waveriders the lead in the sixth minute with a fierce shot after pouncing on a loose ball on top of the opposition circle.
The Magicians' woes were compounded six minutes later when Norris Jones doubled Delhi's lead after scoring from a goal-mouth melee.
The Mumbai outfit's defence was caught off guard once again in the second quarter when unmarked Norris Jones gently tapped the ball inside the goal in the 22nd minute after receiving a diagonal pass from Talwinder Singh from the right flank.
The Magicians pulled one back six minutes later from their first penalty corner through drag-flicker Sandeep.
Encouraged by the goal, the Magicians went for the offensive and earned two more penalty corners in the process but on both occasion Sandeep faltered as Delhi went into the breather with a two goal cushion.
The Waveriders started at the same pace after the change of ends and earned two back-to-back penalty corners, the second of which Rupinder converted to make the scoreline 4-1.
However, the Magicians were in no mood to give up without a fight and gave the Waveriders a late scare, courtesy Sandeep who converted two penalty corners to reduce the margin to 3-4 and take his goals tally to nine in the tournament.
But the Delhi side did not crumble under pressure and somehow held its nerve in the dying moments of the game to emerge victorious.
The Waveriders coach A K Bansal was happy with his team's performance but said they need to work on a few grey areas ahead of the business end of the league.
“The boys are playing well from the start and it is showing in our game. But there are few concerns. We are not being able to earn penalty corners and at the same time we are conceding quite a lot of PCs to our opponents,” Bansal said as Delhi conceded seven penalty corners today.
The Waveriders skipper Sardar Singh, however, was not so happy with the side's performance.
“Our strong point is that we like to play attacking hockey. We started attacking today but I feel we played little defensive after the second quarter. We also committed a lot of mistakes,” he said.
Mumbai Magicians star player Sandeep was little out of sorts when asked where his side is lacking.
“We don't know where we are lacking. We have lost six games, I don't know what is our chances (of semifinal), but we will fight till the last.”