A disciplined Namdhari XI, Ludhiana, sent fancied Air India crashing to a 4-2 defeat in a pre-quarter-final match in the 42nd Bombay Gold Cup Hockey Tournament, sponsored by Union Bank, Punjab National Bank and State Bank, at the BHA-Mahindra stadium, in Mumbai, on Saturday.
The Ludhiana outfit, a blend of experience and youth, have grown in confidence with each outing and maintained their fine form to progress to the quarter-finals.
They were efficient in both attack and defence and forced Air India to play second fiddle. The Namdhari midfield, marshaled by skipper Anmolak Singh, who was given good support from the other medios, Gurpreet Singh, Jasved Singh and Gurucharan Singh, kept a steady supply of passes to their team mates upfront.
The forward line spearheaded by India international Didar Singh (Jr), the experienced Didar (Sr), Sardar Singh and Gurvinder Singh made some darting runs to unsettle the Air India defenders.
Air India, with a couple of new recruits, looked out of sorts as they struggled to find their bearings and keep pace with their faster opponents from the north.
The Air India midfield, which revolved around former Olympian and captain Gavin Ferreira, was virtually non-existent. Their attack clearly lacked mobility and teeth and was further blunted by Namdhari defenders Avtar Singh and Nirwair Singh. The duo showed good anticipation and worked in tandem to keep the rival attackers at bay.
Namdhari rocked the Air India boat in the third minute when Gurucharan Singh, with a powerful drag flick from their first penalty-corner sent the ball screaming to the roof of the net.
Much against the run of play Air India found the equalizer through Satish Kumar in the 21st minute.
The goal materialized when Kumar latched on to a loose ball, which deflected off the pads of goalkeeper Swinder Singh who had charged out to foil Surinder Singh inside the circle.
Namdhari did not take too long to regain the lead as Didar (Jr), with a firm drag flick from their second penalty-corner, beat Air India custodian Gurpreet Singh to his top right hand corner in the 22nd minute.
Ten minutes later Didar was again on target from a similar situation following their third penalty-corner.
Namdhari continued to raid the Air India citadel and increased the lead in the 43rd minute. Sardar Singh came up with a brilliant goal as he made a superb run into the circle to deflect in Gurpreet's crisp free-hit from the left.
Waging a losing battle, Air India managed to reduce the margin through Rajesh Chauhan, who scored from an indirect penalty-corner drill in the 62nd minute.
Namdhari will meet Punjab and Sind Bank in the quarter-finals on Monday.
Later in the evening, Western Railway trounced Mumbai Port Trust 9-1 in a one-sided pre-quarter-final match.
Skipper Gurusev Singh helped himself to three goals, Harish Timori netted a brace, while Shanta Kumar, Hemant Ghete, Shivendra Singh and Ingo Singh struck a goal each to complete the rout.
Asad Khan scored the consolation goal for the losers.
Western Railway now run into Border Security Force (BSF), Jalandhar in the quarter-finals.