Leading 6-3 at half-time and seemingly in control of the fixture, title favourites IOCL suddenly went off the boil allowing MEG to dictate terms before surviving by the skin of their teeth to walk away with full points in their opening match at the KSHA stadium.
While local lad VR Raghunath slammed in three goals, Hamza Mujtaba, Gagandeep Jr and Rajpal Singh scored a goal apiece for IOCL. Midfielders Poovanna and Muthanna struck a brace each and Sahay Jayaseelan scored one for the Sappers.
Former champions and last year’s runners-up IOCL, with a clutch of Indian players in their ranks, have only themselves to blame for courting unnecessary pressure, especially in the dying moments that saw them nearly crumbling. Although they were kept on their toes by some brilliant counter-attacking hockey from MEG, IOCL mostly stayed ahead, finding a goal at regular intervals, thanks to Raghunath.
The drag-flicker, who is struggling to make a return to the Indian squad, was simply outstanding with his fierce hits that brooked no answer from MEG.
The Bangalorean hammered in three goals (23rd, 26th, 36th) and was unlucky not to collect a fourth after being denied by the post. Raghunath apart, most of the IOCL players failed to make any serious impact, with Rajpal, Inderjit and Roshan Minz showing only traces of brilliance.
MEG, who at one point looked headed for a heavy defeat after trailing 2-5 with 26 minutes of the match gone by, did show remarkable spunk, especially post the hour mark. They controlled the game well in the second half, before unleashing a superb fightback towards the end. Down 3-6, Poovanna thundered in a penalty corner in the 63rd minute before Jayaseelan scored Sappers’s fifth goal three minutes later to put the match on a knife edge. However, IOCL held nerves to grab full honours.
Results: IOCL: 6 (Hamza Mujtaba 6th, Gagandeep Jr 20th, VR Raghunath 23rd, 26th, 36th, Rajpal Singh 23rd) bt MEG: 5 (Muthanna 9th, 19th, Poovanna 35th, 63rd, Sahay Jayaseelan 66th); Fortis: 4 (Diwakar Ram 9th, Bikas Toppo 18th, Narad 39th, Pramod 53rd) bt ASC: 2 (KP Deepu 52nd, Harpreet Singh 68th).