East Bengal’s slip up..
Pune FC have nothing to play for this season. However, they can certainly wreck the hopes of some of the title and relegation contenders and they did just that, when they registered a stunning come-from-behind 2-1 win over East Bengal at The Balewadi Sports Complex. Derrick Pereira’s Pune FC played a physical game, unsettling the Kolkata club and had as many as five players yellow carded. There were vicious tackles unleashed on the East Bengal players, forcing Gurwinder Singh and Vashum to go off the field.
The Red and Golds took the lead just after the quarter of an hour mark after Okpara headed-in off a Soumik corner that was assisted on the way by Syed Rahim Nabi. Trevor Morgan’s side was going well, though they were being severely tested on the physical front. Pune equalized on the half hour mark through Manjdou Keita after Sandip Nandy missed the flight of an Arata cross, allowing the Guinean to head in. Veteran Venkatesh gave the home team the lead after an hour when he found himself unmarked following a pass from Keita.
East Bengal pushed forward for the equalizer and were unlucky not to score just before full time when Nabi’s header rattled the crossbar. After the loss, East Bengal retained the third position but are now ahead of Dempo only on goal difference. East Bengal are still not out of the title race but they have to face a tough run-in. They play Churchill and Salgaocar in Goa and Chirag and Dempo in Kolkata. Even HAL in Bangalore on the final day of the season will not be an easy task if HAL are fighting for relegation. But East Bengal certainly has the squad to win all these games and it would be a disaster to count them out just yet. However, Trevor Morgan will certainly be ruing his second leg performance where they have dropped ten points. The win for Derrick has almost assured them of safety but nonetheless this has been a disappointing season for Pune FC.
Leaders march on..
Salgaocar Sports Club virtually ended Churchill Brothers’ already faint title hopes by registering a 2-1 victory over their local rivals. The score line though did not reveal the near-total domination that the Goan Greens had over Mamic Drago’s side. Karim’s young Turks virtually outplayed Churchill on all fronts for almost the entire ninety minutes. Barring the penalty they conceded, their defense produced a near flawless performance.
Salgaocar took the lead after 37 minutes when Churchill goalkeeper Vinay did a Robert Green by spilling a shot from Francis Fernandes over the goal line. But Churchill got a lifeline a couple of minutes later after Irungbam Meitee brought down Odafa Okolie inside the box forcing referee A. Rowan to point to the dreaded spot. Karanjit dived the right way but Odafa’s shot was too powerful and it crashed into the nylons. But Churchill Bothers always looked like leaking another goal and two minutes before the half time whistle The Japanese Juggernaut – Ryuji Sueoka – brilliantly turned in a cross from Yusif Yakubu, after the Ghanaian had done all the hard work on the left and put in a brilliant ball to Ryuji.
If Churchill Brothers were pathetic during the first half, then their performance in the second could be described as woeful. They hardly created any chances, their defense was constantly raided, Steven Dias was having a shocker on the right while Odafa and Karpeh looked like an incompatible couple. In the end Salgaocar didn’t even need the insurance of a third goal. The three points were in the bag and they move closer to the title. However, their next game against Dempo could potentially decide which way the winds of the I-League blow. A win over the defending champions could take Salgaocar to within touching distance of the title.
Salgaocar, look behind you!
Dempo piled on the pressure over leaders Salgaocar after toying with Indian Arrows 5-2 in Goa. Dempo had their foreign trio to thank for their goals. Rouhollah Semieinia, playing at centre-back in place of an injured Dominic Noronha, gave them the lead as early as in the fifth minute after heading in from a Beto cross. Semeinia’s inclusion meant that Ogba Kalu had to sit out due to the foreigner rule but Dempo didn’t feel his absence much with Godwin Franco combining well with Climax Lawrence in the centre of the park. Indian Arrows equalized two minutes later after Shilton D’Silva was allowed a free header with none of the Dempo defenders in position.
Dempo seemed to be repeating the same mistakes they committed in the game against Viva Kerala. But they got a lifeline in the 30th minute after Joaquim Abranches was brought down in the box and the referee pointed to the spot; Beto made no mistake and converted the penalty. Just before half-time, Ranti Martins gave Dempo a two goal advantage after some nice solo work on the left before he blasted the ball past Jagroop. Dempo started the second half from where they left, with Ranti Martins and Beto scoring a goal each, which sandwiched Jeje’s penalty. 5-2 it finished on the day and Dempo improved their goal difference that could become crucial come the end of the season. Colin Toal’s men could get sucked into the relegation battle if they don’t get at least another two wins.
The great escape(s)?
Viva Kerala took advantage of Arrows’ slip up and gave their chances of fighting the drop a tremendous boost after edging past Mumbai FC 1-0 at Kannur. A Felix Chimaokwu strike in the 35 minutes was enough to give them all three points, which took them to 10th position in the table. However, with JCT having two games in hand, things are yet not clear as a JCT win in those two games could upset all calculations. But if Viva Kerala play like they have over the past ten days, they will definitely be safe for another season. They also have the luxury of playing fellow relegation strugglers Indian Arrows and ONGC and a win in those two games would surely assure them of top flight football next season.
ONGC’s ‘great escape’ continued with a come from behind 2-1 win over JCT at Kolhapur. The defeat condemned JCT to the bottom and though they have two games in hand, they are looking like serious relegation candidates. Things started perfectly for the boys from Ludhiana with Ajay Singh giving them the lead in the 40th minute after some woeful defending from the Oilmen. But after half time, the ‘great escape’ started when Babtunde turned in a Sandeep Sangha cross in the 54th minute. More drama followed at the stroke of the full time whistle when Babatunde skipped past two JCT defenders to score and give his side all three points. ONGC are still in the relegation zone but thanks to their rivals’ defeat are now just two points adrift of safety. JCT need to find some inspiration in the two games they have in hand else it will be curtains for the inaugural NFL winners.
Air India continues to surprise us every single season. Every time we feel that they are sure shot contenders for relegation, they spring up results from nowhere and give themselves a fighting chance. They did this last season beating the likes of Shillong Lajong and Sporting Clube de Goa to safety and they are doing it this season too. On Saturday, they performed another Houdini Act, taking all three points against HAL. Okorogor Praise gave them a 1-0 lead into half time. But in the second half they stepped on the gas and pumped in two more goals, putting the result beyond doubt. R. C. Prakash scored a consolation goal for HAL. It was another home loss for the Bangaloreans and they are far from safe. They got tough games left against Dempo, Churchill and East Bengal coming up and they are in serious trouble for sure.
The mini Kolkata derby finished with a goal apiece for Mohun Bagan and Chirag United that does no harm to both of them but doesn’t improve their position either. The game had two sending off’s with Chidi and Bapi being given the marching orders for reckless play. Sunil Chhetri gave Chirag the lead form the spot after Joshimar was brought down in the box by Karan Atwal. It stayed that way at half time but after the change of ends Chirag failed to take advantage of the numerical superiority and conceded a 78th minute goal to Muritala.
Star of The Week : Babtunde Badmus (ONGC)
ONGC were down by a goal at half-time and were staring down the barrel. They were playing fellow relegation contenders JCT and a loss would have almost condemned the Oilmen to the second division. Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Man and the man was Babatunde. A brilliant brace with the winner coming on the stroke of full time gave ONGC all three points in the proverbial “relegation six pointer”.
Miss of the Week: Ranti Martins (Dempo Sports Club)
He scored two goals this week but the Nigerian sharpshooter could have easily got his hattrick had he not missed a sitter. After exchanging a neat one-two with Beto Ranti, he opened up the Arrows defence with his scorching pace and had only the goalkeeper to beat but he shot straight into the hands of Jagroop Singh.
Goal of the Week: Ryuji Sueoka (Salgaocar Sports Club)
This was not an outstanding goal but for the sheer pace and guile of Yusif Yakubu, this goal has received the award. The move from Salgaocar started from defence. Within a flash of an eye, Salgoacar broke on a counter and Gilbert played the ball to Yakubu. The Ghanaian ran about 20 metres from the left, got past two Churchill defenders, withstood a tackle and played in a superb minus to Ryuji, who managed to get the ball into back of the net.
Save of the Week: Sandip Nandy (East Bengal)
In the 69th minute, veteran goal-keeper Sandip Nandy sensationally denied Pune FC twice in a matter of seconds. First, he stopped a close range effort from Subhash Singh, and then acrobatically kept out Lester’s rebound.
Race for the Golden Boot
Odafa Okolie (Churchill Brothers) : 18
Ranti Martins (Dempo) : 17
Ryuji Sueoka (Salgaocar) : 15
Tolgay Ozbay (East Bengal) : 13
Kayne Vincent (Churchill Brothers) : 11
Yusif Yakubu (Salgaocar) : 11
Anil Kumar (Viva Kerala) : 11
Jeje Lalpekhlua (Indian Arrows) : 9
Team of the Week:
Strikers: Beto (Dempo), Babatunde (ONGC), Ranti (Dempo)
Midfielders: Keita (Pune FC), Yakubu (Salgaocar), Praise (Air India)
Defenders: Semieinia (Dempo), Charles Dzisah (Viva Kerala), Sabrosa (Salgaocar), Napolean (Air India)
Goalkeeper: Abhijit Ghosh (Air India)