Chandigarh: Australian Jacob Whetton scored an early field goal to hand Jaypee Punjab Warriors a 2-0 victory over defending champions Ranchi Rays in their opening match of the Hockey India League (HIL), in Chandigarh on Tuesday.
Under the newly introduced scoring system, a field goal is counted as two and the hosts did enough to defend their early strike to pocket full points from the encounter.
Whetton found the opposition net as early as in the second minute of the match to give the early lead to Punjab Warriors which they stoutly defended for the remaining 68 minutes of the match to stun the title holders.
Whetton slotted home a fine fiel goal from a counter-attack after he was brilliantly assisted by Punjab Warriors skipper Sardar Singh, who switched base from Delhi Waveriders this season.
Punjab Warriors caught Ranchi, partly co-owned by India cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, napping in a counter-attack when Sardar set it up for Whetton from the right with a brilliant pass and the Australian did enough to dodge past an onrushing Ranchi goalkeeper Tyler Lovell to shot home the goal.
Punjab Warriors looked more orgainsed than their opponents.
After Whetton's early strike, Ranchi got a golden opportunity to draw level in the 18th minute but skipper Ashley Jackson's flick from a penalty corner was blocked by Punjab Warriors goalkeeper Tristian Clemons. Ranchi had another scoring chance after in the opening half but Jackson's slap shot did not trouble Punjab Warriors custodian.
After the cross-over, Punjab Warriors came out with more purpose and attacked Ranchi goal at ease and in the process earned three penalty corners but the chances went in vain.
While Whetton's try from the first penalty corner hit the right post, the effort from the second set piece went wide.
Punjab Warriors had another scoring opportunity in the final quarter, but Christopher Ciriello's effort did not yield result.
Ranchi came out all guns blazing in the final quarter but their forwardline failed to get the final touch which could have earned them atleast a draw.
Punjab Warriors will meet last year's bronze medallist Delhi Waveriders in their next match in Chandigarh on Thursday, while Ranchi will play Uttar Pradesh Wizards in Lucknow on Friday.
After the match, Whetton thanked Sardar for the fine assist and also lauded his team's backline to hold on to the lead.
"It was good that Sardar provided the ball in time and I was there at the right place for the goal. Also, we put up a very good defensive performance as well, so it was a good win," Whetton, was adjudged player-of-the-match said at the post-match presentation.