Punjab and rivals Pakistan Association A showed how intense quality hockey played at the highest standard in Hong Kong can be, as the two battled at King’s Park in the Hong Kong Hockey Association Premier League over the weekend in what could be termed as match of the season so far.
Speaking after the game, Punjab’s captain Sunny Bali admitted he was surprised by the intensity, despite never being behind on the scoreboard in the entire match.
“We anticipated Pakistan taking the game to us, but never like this. And I have to commend them on playing well. Good on them,” said Bali, whose side approached the fray confident of taking points, but not expecting the match to be a high-scoring affair.
Upon entering the King’s Park venue, one sensed that there was something special about to happen as both sides went through their respective warm-ups.
Close to 1,000 spectators (considered a full house) expected a close call, with the likelihood of the winning side, relying akin to a toss of a coin to know the winner—and they were not far off with that assumption.
And with the first whistle, the game began in what was expected to be a tightly contested affair with both sides seeming determined to walk away with the three points. But what we got was the unexpected—a goal buffet.
It appeared as though it was going to be a walk in the park for Punjab as they nabbed a firm 2-0 lead. A stunned Pakistan finally woke up and retaliated to close the game down, with the first half ending 3-3.
The second half was frenetic. For every goal Punjab would bury, Pakistan were as quick to fire home.
In the end, Punjab emerged from the dust as victor, edging out Pakistan 7-6 on the final whistle, with Simrandeep Singh, their drag flicker, notching up four goals along the way, while Barkat Singh, Gagan Tikni and Satinderjit Singh scored a goal apiece.
In reply for Pakistan, two Chinese-Taipei imports – both wingers Chang-Chnn Hsiu and Chen Yi-Chen – notched two goals apiece. Add two more to Pakistan’s Istiaq Hamad and M. Waqua, but they were too little too late.
A sublime highlight of the match was to come when Simrandeep made a solitary run at goal in the second half that saw him dribble his way past six players, including the Pakistan Goalkeeper, before tapping the ball home. The delight of the fans extended to the opposition who also offered up their applause for the magic.
Punjab’s Bali cited their lack of defensive strength and inability to fend off Pakistan attacks due to missing first-selection players, while Pakistan had their fair share of injury woes.
Punjab had a key defender sitting out a 4-game suspension, while their regular keeper is away on personal business. Punjab are looking to strengthen their squad by including further imports in the coming weeks, rumoured to be players who played at the London Olympic Games.
Both sides have to be commended on the way they played. It was hockey of the highest calibre, with non-stop action from the first to final whistle as attack swung from one end to the other.
Khalsa vs Valley
In a later match, Premier champions Khalsa showed their class against a spirited Valley, with their Egyptian international Ahmad Ewis.
Although Khalsa went on to win 5-1, the score-line did little to reflect the true spirit as shown by Valley, who did well, but were unable to halt Ewis.
Valley was saved when skipper Ben Glynn scored a consolation goal literally on the game’s death to deny their rivals the glee of earning a whitewash.
The game began looking likely to be a draw as both sides battled for early dominance, only for Khalsa to earn a much-needed stroke to break the duck that Ewis easily converted.
Ewis then went on to nab a hat-trick from penalty corners, with Harry Bal collecting a screamer, but not before Ewis added a fourth from an astute angle.
In the match between Recreio-A and Shaheen-A at King’s Park on Saturday Oct 27, Shaheen won by three goals to nil. Both teams played well creating chances at either end, but Shaheen’s goal mouth pressure and finishing was superior. Nevertheless, Recreio-A were not overshadowed and played an important part in making it an interesting match.
On Wednesday Oct 24, WS Orchid were overpowered by Valley-A by 1:17.
Next week: There is a full set of fixtures this weekend.
Eddie So is a photo journalist with over 20 years experience based in Hong Kong.