Punjab’s course correction


When it comes to demeanour, Dhanraj Pillay the coach is not too different from Dhanraj Pillay the player — animated at all times. Standing in the dug-out, he shouted instructions at his players at the top of his voice, exhorting them to press forward and berating them when they committed mistakes. At one stage in the first half, with Air India missing chances in front of the goal, it looked like the 44-year-old former India forward with a noticeable girth would pick up a stick any moment and jump over the hoardings on to the pitch to actually show his players how it's done.

His reaction, though amusing, wasn't really over the top, not in hindsight at least. If only they had a clinical finisher up front, it's unlikely that Air India would have gone home having lost 2-1 to Punjab on a 72nd minute golden goal. In all likelihood, a poacher like Dhanraj would have killed off the game by half-time.

Which is not to suggest that Punjab didn't deserve this win.

They have been the team of the tournament by some distance and any other result would have been grossly unfair. However, the very un-Punjab-like approach that they showed in the first half, when they sat back and inviting Air India to attack, went unpunished. While Air India created openings at regular intervals, (the resourceful duo of Arjun Halappa and Vikas Pillay in particular) Shivendra Singh, Sameer Dad and Joga Singh just couldn't sneak in a goal.

Dhanraj thundered down on his players during the break due to the nil-nil scoreline, while Punjab coach Baljit Singh Saini decided to change the strategy. "In the first-half, we opted for a half-court press, but in the second session, we changed it to a full-court press and you could see the difference. We attacked a lot and it made a difference," Saini said.

... contd.

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