The I-League gets even more unpredictable with each passing week. There was drama at the top and the bottom the table. Dempo Sports Club scored a stunning 3-1 win over Salgaocar an the Goan derby blowing the title race wide open in front of a packed Nehru Stadium filled mostly with Salgaocar supporters.
Dempo took the lead after Karanjit Singh failed to punch hard a Cliford Miranda corner allowing Ogba Kalu to punt home. But just when it seemed Dempo were in control of the game Ghanaian war horse Yusif Yakubu put the crowd on its feet with a shot from the right that beat goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani.Dempo were rattled and Ryuji looked like putting Salgaocar ahead a couple of minute later after a mistake by Valeriano Rebello had Salgaocar in a 3 on 1 situation with only Mahesh Gawli at the back for Dempo. But the India internantional proved why he is the best defender in India making a sensational block off a Ryuji Sueoka shot to keep the score at 1-1. That block proved crucial as a minute before half time Ranti Martins put Dempo ahead with a cool finish after a vicious pass by the Brazilian magician Beto split the Salgaocar defence in half.
Dempo played like seasoned campaigers in the second half and proved just why they had won 4 titles in the last six years by subduing Salgaocar and not allowing them the space to maneuver their attacks. In the end Dempo made it safe 5 minutes before full time with Beto beating the offside trap and latching on to a brilliant lob pass by Ogba Kalu to score past Karanjit Singh. The result put Dempo now just two points behind Salgaocar with 5 games to play leaving the title still up for grabs.
East Bengal bounced back from their loss against Pune FC with a 3-0 home win against Viva Kerala at The Salt Lake to stay in the hunt for their 5th I-League crown. The Red and Golds were missing two of their best players this season- Mehtab Hossain and Tolgay Ozbay. But they made light of their absence scoring a fluent victory over the Keralites pumping in all three goals in a first half blitzkreig. East Bengal went ahead in the 18th minute after their versatile player Syed Rahim Nabi made a great run down the middle and unleashed a brilliant drive. A couple of minutes later Penn Orji, who is on the shopping list of several clubs after his great performance this season, brilliantly side stepped two defenders to slot home. In the 42nd minute Sushil Singh revelling in his rare start nodded home from close range to complete the rout. East Bengal move to 2nd spot level on points with Dempo and Churchill but crucially enjoy a much healthier goal difference. The pressure though has piled up on Viva Kerala and they are just two points off the drop zone. Their next two games- away to Indian Arrows and home to ONGC could decide their fate in this year’s league.
Churchill Brothers’ miserable run in the second phase continued after they conceded an injury time goal to settle for a 2-2- draw with relegation strugglers Air India. Nigerian Okorogor Praise put the home team ahead in the 15th minute but Odafa Okolie made it all square going into half time. At the change of ends Bineesh Balan put Churchill ahead in the 48th minute but deep into injury time Praise was the saviour once again for Subhash Kashyap’s men, scoring past Vinay to earn a valuable point and stay afloat in the quest to avoid relegation.
They have tough three games left against Mohun Bagan away, JCT at home and Dempo away on the final day of the season and they desprately need atleast six points from their remaining nine to have any chance of avoiding relegation.
Pune FC got their second win on the trot defeating HAL 2-1 at the Kanteveera Stadium in Bangalore. Goals from Lester Fernandes and Manjdou Keita a couple of minutes before and after half time was enough to seal victory for the boys from Pune that moves them to fifth in the table above Mumbai FC. R.C.Prakash got a consolation goal for HAL. The defeat threatens to derail HAL’s season after a bright start. They are suddenly at the bottom of the table and with games against Dempo away, Churchill at home and East Bengal at home things are looking very tough for them. They are in big trouble and it would take divine intervention to save them from the drop.
JCT scored one of their most important victories and handed themselves a lifeline after a brilliant 2-0 win over Indian Arrows. JCT captain Omoloja Karim led from the front giving them the lead before Maninder Singh put the result beyond the reach of Arrows. JCT are still in the relegation zone but are just a point below safety and crucially have two games in hand. Indian Arrows are now just a loss away from relegation and though it was made clear at the start that they would not be relegated it remains to be seen how other clubs react to the situation if Arrows finish in the bottom two.
Kailash Patil is definitely the toast of ONGC. And Subrata Bhattacharya must be commended for bringing him on. Here’s the story of that incredible game. 12 minutes to go and ONGC were down by a goal at The Salt Lake against The Mariners. A loss would mean they would be at the bottom of the table. What does Bhattacharya do? He brings on Kailash Patil who scores an unbelievable two goals in seven minutes to turn the game on its head and win three points for his side. India rightback Surkumar Singh had earlier given Mohun Bagan the lead with just three minutes on the clock with a rasping shot. But an inspired substitution that will probably go down in folklore as the moment that changed ONGC’s season if at all they avoid relegation this season. Japanese Katsumi Yusa who was until that time having a great game was inexplicably brought off for Patil. That change though worked wonders with Patil lashing home in the 78th and 84th minute to complete a stunning victory over a pathetic and disjointed Mohun Bagan side that was pelted wth stones while leaving the stadium by angry fans. ONGC’s 3 points moved them two places above relegation and with two of their three ramaining games at home they have every chance of avoiding the drop.
In the final game of the round Chirag United and Mumbai FC played out a goalless draw that sees them both stuck in 6th and 8th position respectively.
Star of the Week: Kailash Patil (ONGC)
Beto was absolutely brilliant in the ganme against Salgaocar but for the sheer brilliance and importance of his double stike Kailash Patil is our star of the week. The ONGC hitman was up against one of the biggest clubs in India and that to in their own den but he repaid the faith that Subrata Bhattacharya reposed in him and came up with a stunning double strike that could be ONGC’s turning point of the season.
Miss of the Week: Sathish Kumar (Mohun Bagan)
Mohun Bagan were already 1-0 up and could have scored a second goal if not for a glaring miss by Satish Kumar from close range. Snehashish Chakraborty played in a superb ball from the left and there was plenty of open space in the ONGC box. All Satish had to do was take control of the ball take another touch and shoot but he hurried his shot and it went wide.
Goal of the Week: Surkumar Singh (Mohun Bagan)
When Surkumar Singh scores it’s usually a bullet from long range. On this occasion too as early as the third minute the India defender picked up a ball from the edge of the box and unleashed a ferocious schot that scorched the net, with ONGC keeper Narzery having no chance of stopping it.
Save of the Week : Laxmikant Kattimani (Dempo Sports Club)
It was almost the rebirth of Peter Schmeichel at Fatorda. In the 79th minute Salgaocar got a corner which was headed away by Mahesh Gawli. The ball fell straight to Anthony Barbosa and he smacked the volley straight goal wards. A diving Laxmikant Kattimani lunged at the ball and was almost parallel to the ground when he made the astonishing save. The game was 2-1 to Dempo at that time and had that goal been scored it would have given Salgaocar the momentum going into the final ten minutes of the match.
Race for the Golden Boot:
Odafa Okolie (Churchill Brothers): 19
Ranti Martins (Dempo): 18
Ryuji Sueoka (Salgaocar) : 15
Tolgay Ozbay (East Bengal) : 13
Kayne Vincent (Churchill Brothers) : 11
Yusif Yakubu (Salgaocar) : 12
Anil Kumar (Viva Kerala) : 11
Jeje Lalpekhlua (Indian Arrows) : 9
Team of the Week
Defenders: Mahesh Gawli (Dempo), Syed Rahim Nabi (East Bengal), Maninder Singh (JCT), Gour (ONGC)
Midfielders: Kailash Patil (ONGC), Mandjou Keita (Pune FC), Penn Orji (East BEngal)
Strikers: Ranti (Dempo), Beto (Dempo), Praise (Air India)