A subdued season for Pune Football Club transpired in to a grand end with yet another top 5 finish in the premier division of Indian National Football League; the I-League! Derrick Pereira’s side has impressed many with the their solid defense throughout the season and a decent attacking record, especially in the second half of most matches – thus earning the tag of “Come-back Kings” over the course of the season. The excessive long ball style of play was the only drawback but nonetheless it turned out to be a result oriented approach with whatever resources the coach had at his disposal.
An Insipid Beginning
A draw on the opening day of the season against Mohun Bagan, then losing out to arch rivals Mumbai FC and finally registering their first win in Round 6 against eventual Champions Salgaocar meant Pune had a weird beginning to the season. The void that had been created by the exit of influential midfielder Douhou Pierre was hard to be filled. Experienced Indian trio of Venkatesh, Paresh Shiwalkar and Ajayan were not suitable enough to strike a cord at this point in their career. Asim Hasan and Lester Fernandes made hay of this opportunity and sealed their places in the starting eleven as the season progressed.
Match of the Season
Pune’s astonishing 3 – 2 scoreline victories against Goan side’s Dempo SC and Churchill Bros could have been the best matches of the season where PFC was involved, but the Match of the Season was surely played on 26th of February between Pune FC and Viva Kerala. The encounter which finished with eight goals witnessed the boys from Kerala staging the greatest ever comebacks in the history of I-League – that too against the come-back kings of the season. Though Pune lost 2 points in this match, football was the real winner for sure! Pune were leading by four goals with just 37′ minutes into the match and with Indian National keeper Subrata Paul in goal for Pune it was just one of those days where the unthinkable happened. Although Viva pulled one back before the half-time breather, not even the hardcore fans of the Kerala club would have thought the drama that took place in the second half.
Viva Kerala came back with renewed vigour in the second half and made it 4-2 in the 54th minute. The Neelapada were not done yet. They pumped in two more goals in the 74th and 80th minute to bring things back on level terms. Anil Kumar, the 2nd highest Indian scorer of the season chipped in with a brace to help his side share the honors in a goal-scoring thriller. Their fighting display and indomitable courage earned applause from even the die-hard Pune faithful!
Worst Performance of the Season
The home game defeat at Balewadi against their neighboring state rivals from Banglore, HAL SC, was not a bad performance because of the scoreline which actually read 0 – 1; but more so because of the way Pune FC approached the match. Being a home game, Pune was expected to have ideally gone all out but surprisingly it was the other way out. With Balaji coming in for regular ‘keeper Subrata, who was on India duty, HAL captain Murali made sure HAL hit Pune where they were weakest. Venky, Ajayan and Shiwalkar could not create enough to feed Keita and Edmar and Tamba had an off day in defense. Pune tried the long ball approach again and again which failed miserably throughout and the stats read zero genuine shots on target by the Red Lizards!
Goal of the Season
This undoubtedly goes to Asim Hassan. The 35 yard scorcher from the Punjab born lad against JCT was a treat to watch. Asim’s neatly out-stepped shot curling down while going past the helpless keeper into the far corner was incidently his first ever goal for the Pune team. The goal gave Pune a three to nothing lead against the Millmen and Asim celebrated it running around the pitch towards the fans and Coach Derrick.
Dream End to the Season
Pune have scored most of their goals in the second half of matches and often staged comebacks late into the game. Similar was the scene considering the season as a whole. PFC managed to earn 14 points of possible 21 in their last 7 matches. Three of those wins have come against title chasing opponents East Bengal, Dempo and Churchill. This led to a fifth place finish and a positive goal difference of +5 having gathered 36 points – six less than the points they managed in their maiden season last year
Selwyn Fernandes in central defense, Gurjinder Kumar on the wings and Lester Fernandes in midfield have performed exceptionally well this season. The ball carrying skills shown by Lester, the composure of Selwyn and the energy on the field by Gurjinder has been well appreciated by fans and management alike. Mandjou Keita, who scored 13 goals in the season to become the club’s top scorer, has had a splendid season and also received the best player of the season award at the PFC Award’s Night.
Fan favorite Izumi Arata , captain Shanmugam Venkatesh , local lad Paresh Shiwalkar, former Mahindra man Krishnan Ajayan, the 40 yard goal scorer Asim Hasan, Brazilian Edmar – all have been decent but not outstanding. Also the duo of Caitano Costa – Othallo Tabia have delivered for the coach. Lamine Tamba has not been the ideal replacement for Chikha Wali but he too has played his part.
Subhash Singh has shown sparks of brilliance when given an opportunity, whereas Sunil Kumar, J Prasad, Kamlajeet Kumar, G Vignesh all have chipped in with a few cameo appearances as well. Reserve goalkeepers Balaji and Soram Poirei have filled in as the second choice keepers to Subrata Paul, who on the other hand has been subdued this season by his own high standards.
So overall I-League 2010-11 has been pretty good for Pune Football Club considering the fact that this is only their second year running into the league. The fans can be proud of their team as well as the manager Derrick Periera and his coaching staff. The drop in crowd attendance has been a concern for the club management but with the prospect of renewed I-League coverage on TV for next season and an exciting period in PFC’s youth academy formation under Ranjan Chowdhary, the 2011-2012 season is surely one to look forward too!