The penultimate day of VIVO Pro Kabaddi Season 5 action at Sonepat saw home team Haryana Steelers falling to a disappointing defeat (22-38) at the hands of Puneri Paltan, while Tamil Thalaivas held their nerve in the first match of the evening to score a last-gasp victory (34-33) against U.P. Yoddha.

After registering only their second victory this season, the Tamil Thalaivas camp looked much relieved for at last being able to convert their narrow losses to a win. Captain Ajay Thakur led from the front, holding the young team together in the dying minutes of the match and following the coach’s strategy to the tee.

“Our coach [K Baskaran] told us not to go for advance tackles and not to raid for more than 15 seconds. If we failed to garner a point in those seconds, we must come back and defend. We gave away three points in the last minutes but we covered well,” Thakur said at the post-match press conference.

The main reason for the Thalaivas comeback in the last few minutes was Thakur himself, who pulled off a fabulous super raid to snatch the match away from their opponents. “I thought of getting a single raid point because the next raid was a do-or-die raid for them [U.P. Yoddha]. I was just thinking of tying the scores but they came forward with an advance tackle which gave us the advantage,” Takur said.

Even U.P. Yoddha captain Nitin Tomar believes that Thakur’s super raid was the turning point. Quite a few times this season the Yoddha have been guilty of losing their nerve in the final minutes and handing the advantage to the opposition. On this matter, Tomar said: “We still lack confidence. I think the intense pressure of not losing the match gets to the team in the final minutes. So, we need to take care of that, and if we could have tackled Ajay Thakur then we could have easily won the match.”

The other match of the day was a completely one-sided affair with Puneri Paltan dictating proceedings from the very first minute against Haryana Steelers. In the words of Pune coach BC Ramesh, his players followed his strategy perfectly with both defence and offence departments putting their best foot forward.

Meanwhile, Steelers coach Rambir Singh Khokhar termed Haryana’s performance of the night their worst in the league so far. “Except Deepak Kumar Dahiya, none of the other players seemed to be ready, according to me. Our team is not as weak as they played tonight and everyone other than Dahiya wilted under pressure. It was our worst performance to date,” he said.