Defending champions Ranchi Rhinos eked out a close 2-1 win over Uttar Pradesh Wizards to consolidate their position in the points table of the Hero Hockey India League (HHIL) at the Dhyan Chand Stadium in Lucknow.
The Rhinos were, by far, the better side on display as they dominated the proceedings from start to finish and enjoyed the better share of ball possession.
The Rhinos outplayed the Wizards in terms of circle penetration as well as they made inroads into the hosts' citadel 21 times as compared to their opponents' nine attempts.
To sum up, it was a close contest between the two finest teams of the tournament, but it was the Rhinos who utilised the chances that came their way.
The Rhinos took the lead through star English drag-flicker Ashley Jackson, who converted a penalty corner in the 18th minute.
The Wizards had their chances in the match but the forward line, led by Ramandeep Singh, failed to cash in on the opportunities.
Another Englishman Barry Middleton (26th minute) doubled the Rhinos' lead with a field goal in the second quarter as the visitors' went into the halfway break with a comfortable 2-0 advantage.
At the change of ends, the Wizards adopted an aggressive approach and created a few bright openings but the Rhinos defense led by captain Moritz Furste stood like a rock to thwart any danger to their citadel.
The Wizards, however, managed to pull one back in the 50th minute when Edward Ockenden scored from a field effort to raise the hope of the home fans in the entertaining match which was witnessed by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.
But that was all the home team can manage as the visitors fell back and defended their citadel with precision to register their second win in the six-team franchise-based event.
The Rhinos and Wizards are presently tied at the third position in the standings with 11 points from three matches each.
Uttar Pradesh Wizards will next face Jaypee Punjab Warriors, while the Ranchi Rhinos will face Dabur Mumbai Magicians on February 4.
Speaking on his team's performance, Ranchi Rhinos head coach Gregg Clark said, "It was an important game today as in the first match against Uttar Pradesh Warriors we did not deliver as per expectations. Our next game is against Mumbai Magicians and they look like a difficult team to play against and we have to be extra careful against them."
Uttar Pradesh Wizards chief coach Roelant Oltmans said the team lost the momentum as the game progressed.
"We started off very well but somewhere lost the momentum. Our next match is against Punjab Warriors and we will prepare accordingly. We will work on our strategy and techniques accordingly."
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