The giants are slayed! After 13 matches and 3 months, East Bengal’s unbeaten run finally ended. And in Trevor Morgan’s words, it wasn’t East Bengal that beat East Bengal, but lowly ONGC that scalped the giants. Although he downplayed his teams chances of remaining unbeaten throughout the season, he would have never have expected ONGC to hand them their first defeat. A Babatunde goal enabled the Oilmen to take all three points and move them away from the bottom of the pile. For East Bengal, defeat meant that they had lost their pole position to Salgaocar, on goal difference. East Bengal looked off-colour for the first time this season. Their strikers missed a host of chances while ONGC defended stoutly through Peter Odafe and company. Tolgay and Nabi were guilty of missing easy chances. The East Bengal defense played another good game though and was unlucky to concede a goal. All in all the Red-and-Golds can be forgiven for having an off-day in office. For ONGC, this could be the spark they needed to pull off a great escape. They are still at the bottom two but are equal on points with Air India.
Dempo have brought their stuttering season well and truly back on track after demolishing Churchill Brothers 2-0 in the great Goan derby. In fact, such was the dominance of Dempo’s performance that Churchill couldn’t even string 3-4 continuous passes together and get into their rhythm. Dempo’s India internationals, playing for the first time this season in front of their home crowd, produced a champagne performance to rip the heart out of Churchill Brothers. Mahesh Gawli was absolutely brilliant at the back; he produced one of the best performances by a stopper, back at Fatorda this season. Clifford and Climax, along with Kalu ran the show from midfield. And even though they were missing their talisman Beto, who was out due to a double booking, young Joaquim Abranches stepped up and produced an absolute scorcher of a goal. Straight from a Churchill corner, the ball broke to Peter Carvalho, who kept the ball well, got past a defender and passed it to Kalu. The Nigerian found Abranches with a high ball from his first touch. Abranches got the ball on the bounce and possibly not knowing what to do with it, decided to take his chances. It was indeed a right decision. From outside that box, it curved and went straight into the top corner, beating Arindam Bhattacharya. The goal seemed to rattle Churchill Brothers. The crowd got behind Dempo and from then on Churchill couldn’t even string up decent attacks on the Dempo citadel. Amaury Nunes and Henry Karpeh were well marshaled by Mahesh Gawli and Domnic Noronha and didn’t get even an inch of space to thread balls to Vincent and Rafi. Dempo controlled the game in the second half and even though Subramanium brought in Charan Rai and Durga Boro in place of Karpeh and Rafi, Churchill’s story of miss passes continued. The result was put beyond doubt when Ranti Martins hoodwinked three Churchill defenders to score from outside the box. The win puts Dempo just six points behind leaders Salgaocar and they are now back in the title race.
Maybe, just maybe, this could be Salgaocar’s year of glory. They are back at the top of the I-League, at the half way stage, for possibly the first time in 12 years. Before the game, Salgaocar knew that they had a chance to claim pole position, after East Bengal’s surprise loss the previous day. But they were surprisingly slow off the blocks and didn’t create any chances in the first half hour. However, as time progressed, Salgaocar made their intentions clear.They got their first goal out of the blue. Francis’ corner met an unmarked Yakubu, who headed it home. That seemed to open the floodgates and with the crowd urging them, they got their second 3 minutes before half time. Yakubu, after being fed by Govin Singh – their new recruit – went passed three Viva Kerala defenders with a sudden burst of speed and from the left put in an inch perfect pass to Ryuji Sueoka, who delightfully flicked it with his right leg into the goal, giving the Viva Kerala keeper no chance whatsoever. Salgaocar started the second half the way they ended the first. And just on the hour mark, Yakubu put the result beyond doubt, after his shot from the penalty area took a wicked deflection, that wrong footed goalkeeper Shahinlal. Ekene too got on the score sheet with an injury time goal. Kunnikrishnan will be left scratching his head at the prospect of having to endure yet another relegation battle. Their team looked woeful, even with the likes of N.P Pradeep and Chinta Chandrashekar.
Mumbai FC continued their impressive showing, beating Air India 1-0 at Kolhapur. Air India suffered their first defeat in three games. Henry Ezeh scored the lone goal for Khalid Jamil’s team, which maintains their fifth position, a point behind Dempo. Air India is above the relegation zone, only on goal difference, and Yusuf Ansari will certainly feel that they have lost the momentum that they had once created.
There were three goalless draws for the first time this season. Chirag-Indian Arrows, Mohun Bagan-Pune FC and HAL-JCT matches finished without tickling the scorers.
Star Of The Week: Yusif Yakubu (Salgaocar Sports Club)
The veteran Ghanaian, one of the most prolific scores in the history of national football league, scored a brilliant brace in the round fourteen encounter against Viva Kerala. Yakubu showed that he has lost none of his poacher’s instinct, when he jumped highest to head the ball over the goal-line, from a Francis Fernandes-corner, in the 38th minute of the game, to give his side a deserved lead. The Ghanaian goal-machine then went on to add another goal in his kitty when his screamer from the edge of the box took an wicked deflection before finding the back of the net to put the game to bed and nipped in bud any chance of a late recovery by the Kunnikrishnan’s side. Deservedly, Yusif Yakubu is TheHardTackle’s “Star of The Week.“
Goal of the Week: Joaquim Abranches (Dempo Sports Club)
When you get power, curve, bend and speed in one goal, you know you’ve see something special. The India U-23 captain produced an absolute ripper of a goal, after an injury lay-off, to take this honour. Arindam Bhattacharya stood motionless but there was nothing he could do. With Abranches’ imperious form, Armando Colaco will be spoilt for choice when Beto returns.
Save Of the Week: Subhashish Roy Chowdhary (Dempo Sports Club)
Subhashish Roy Chowdhary bags this award after pulling off a stunning save from a Steven Dias free kick. After Zakeer was brought down by Kalu on the left, Steven unleashed a vicious kick that had speed and dip; but Subhashish leapt high towards his right and pulled off a brilliant one handed save and parried it over the bar.
Miss Of The Week: Anil Kumar (Viva Kerala)
When your star striker muffs up such an easy chance, you know you’re going to have a disastrous day in office. Anil Kumar missed one of the easiest goals he would ever get to score. After being fed by Pradeep, none of the Salgaocar defenders tracked the run of Anil. Karanjit Singh in the Salgaocar goal had no option but to come out and try and make a save. Anil easily rounded him off but just when he was about to slot home into an empty net, he inexplicably over ran the ball, and missed his shot. This allowing Karanjit to come back and make the collection.
The race for the Golden Boot:
Odafa Okolie (Churchill Brothers) : 15
Ryuji Sueoka (Salgaocar) : 13
Tolgay Ozbay (East Bengal) : 9
Kayne Vincent(Churchill Brothers) : 8
Ranti Martins (Dempo) : 8
Ebi Sukore (Mumbai FC) : 7
Elijah Junior (Chirag): 7
Odafa Okolie missing yet another match. This means Ryuji Sueoka has closed the gap to just 2 goals. Ranti also added to his tally of seven goals. With Odafa doubtful for the next game too, Ryuji can start dreaming about getting on even terms with the Nigerian goal machine.
Team Of The Week
Goalkeeper: Subhashish Roy Chowdhary (Dempo Sports Club)
It was certainly a home debut to remember for the former Mahindra United shot stopper. He pulled off some brilliant saves, mostly from long rangers, once off Steven and on another occasion off Zakeer, to keep a clean sheet.
Defenders : Peter Odafe (ONGC), Mahesh Gawli (Dempo), Govin Singh (Salgaocar), Evans Quao (Mumbai FC)
Mahesh Gawli and Govin Singh are back in the I-League and with their performance, they make an appearance in the team of the week for the first time. Both had superb games in defense. Marvellous Mahesh was everywhere on the pitch – tackling, clearing, heading and even crossing for his strikers. Govin was playing at Fatorda for the first time in a Salgaocar shirt and he shelled out a good performance, that will surely have pleased Karim Bencherifa. Peter Odafa, at centre back for ONGC, was instrumental in the Oilmen’s shock victory over East Bengal and deserves a place in the all star team. Evans with his goal scoring prowess will be handy at right back.
Midfielders: Ryuji Sueoka(Salgaocar), Henry Ezeh (Mumbai FC), Ogba Kalu (Dempo)
Ogba Kalu makes the team of the week for the first time this season, after a great performance against his former club. He was the anchor man in the Dempo midfield and did a fabulous job. Henry Ezeh had another assured game at the centre of the park, lending a helping hand in Mumbai’s victory with a goal. Ryuji Sueoka has been tremendous this season and once again makes the team in the midfield
The Strikers: Badmus Babatunde (ONGC), Joaquim Abranches (Dempo), Yusif Yakubu (Salgaocar)
The team of the week has three top strikers this time. Young Abranches scored a peach of a goal and also helped in crossing from the right of midfield. Yakubu looked like an energetic young kid with sudden bursts of speed and acceleration and his brace wins him a place in the team of the week. It was hard to leave out Babatunde especially after his winning goal against near-invincible East Bengal; so he too makes up the three pronged attack.