Last laugh Usha's
Usha Krira Chakra completed a hattrick of titles when the old-Dhaka outfit retained the Green Delta Insurance Premier Hockey League trophy with a 4-2 win over Abahani yesterday.
In the league finale between the last year's joint-defending champions, Abahani needed a win to top the table but their weak defence was once against exposed as Usha stole the show with a brace each from Maksudur Rahman Habul and Pakistani midfielder Traik Aziz.
For runners-up Abahani, who stuck to 31 points to Usha's 36, Pakistani defender Kashif Ali converted two penalty corners on his Dhaka debut.
Usha went ahead after five minutes hen three Abahani defenders failed to cut a long hit by Sajjad Anwar, allowing an eagerly waiting Habul at the far post to tap in.
Abahani led some spirited attacks but Kuti committed a cardinal mistake when he mishit a pass by Jimmy from three yards with only rival goalkeeper Shakil to beat.
Abahani mounted heavy pressure and it told during their third penalty corner inside four minutes. The sky-blues drew level in the 22nd minute when Kashif dragged the ball into the back of the net.
Abahani should have taken the lead soon afterwards but country's top player Jimmy, much to the horror of his teammates, found the goalkeeper's chest with a reverse hit from handshaking distance.
At the other end, Abahani custodian Zahid who was otherwise unimpressive in the entire league, denied Akhter Ali on one-on-one while defender Chayan made a goalline save on a hit by Usha winger Rajan.
Usha, who made no impact from their lone penalty corner in the first half, restored lead in the very first minute after resumption as their counter-attack based game paid rich dividends.
Zahid did well to stop Habul twice but Tarik put the rebound into the top right corner.
Five minutes later, Tarik made the rival defenders mere spectators to make it 3-1 with a low reverse hit just inside from the box.
Rajan and Akhter Ali looked unstoppable at the Usha attack and created more chances, but Zahid twice kept Abahani in the game with desperate saves.
Kashif brought Abahani back into contention again when he dragged his second goal in the 55th minute but Abahani paid dearly for skipper Rana's miss when the half-fit midfielder blew a sitter over the bar.
Usha put the match beyond Abahani three minutes from time, Habul making the scoreline 4-2 -- identical to their first-leg victory against Abahani. Rajan's darting run down the right during the quick counter attack caught the rivals on the wrong foot and Habul made no mistake to slam the board after a clinical pass.
"Yes, counter attacks have again proved the right strategy," commented Usha's smiling Pakistani coach Rana Jahir after freeing himself from the embracing players.
"After going 1-0 down, Abahani looked better, but briefly. There defence was not convincing and I believe they had a number of injured players on the pitch. They were just walking at times.
"This year, our strategy was totally different. We played on counter attacks and always our concentration was on the opposition defence."
Jahir said he was never worried about the championship even after suffering their only defeat to Mohammedan. "I kept the spirit of the team high, which is the job of the coach. When Abahani beat Mohammedan in a 'fixed match' I was sure we would win."
Jahir's allegations were strongly denied by his counterpart Mahbub Harun.
"There had never been any fixed match between Abahani and Mohammedan. If anyone can prove that our officials or players tried to fix that match, I will leave the hockey arena," said Abahani coach Harun challenging Jahir's claims.
"The two misses in the first half proved vital. Also, if Rana could score that goal, it would have been 3-3 with nearly 7-8 minutes remaining," said the former national captain.
"Our defence was really at shambles and we conceded at least two goals due to their mistakes. I think the local players relied too much on Kashif.
"Kashif's arrival failed to inspire the others and it were the local players who made the difference. While ours flopped, Usha's local collection played a tremendous game," admitted Harun adding that Musa Mia, as marker of rival playmaker Akhter Ali, lost the battle.