It has been an exciting opening month for the lovers of Indian football. Some expected results, a few shocks, a number of high scoring affairs and few thrilling encounters produced as many as 95 goals in 35 matches played in the month of December. TheHardTackle analyzes the performance of the opening month and finds out the top performers in each department.
Top Club of the Month: East Bengal
The Red-&-Gold brigade performed in an all conquering mode in the opening month winning all their matches in style. This was not very surprising by the standard set by Morgan’s men in pre-season; however they made quite a few eyebrows to raise by the ridiculous ease with which they brushed their opponents aside. They started the campaign with a narrow 1-0 win over ONGC FC, before picking up momentum to comfortably see off defending champions Dempo in their own backyard. Trevor Morgan guided his team impressively to come up with clinical performances in away matches while the team performed at its attacking best on their Yuvabharati home turf to thrash AIFF XI 4-0 and then toying with Air India defense to register a 6-1 win. The fact that East Bengal scored the most number of goals, 14 in total, in first six rounds, conceding the least, just 1, speaks volume about their performance in the month of December. Hence, Kingfisher East Bengal clinches our “Club of the month – December” award.
Honorable Mention: Salgaocar SC
Top Performer of the month: Mehtab Hussain (East Bengal)
The “double-cylinder”, who is enjoying a rich vein of form this season, is the main architect behind East Bengal’s early dominance in the league campaign. Playing the “bottom of the diamond” role in Morgan’s 4-1-2-1-2, he came up with valuable contributions in every match. He scored once in this month and has seven assists to his name. He got nominated in “TheHardTackle’s Team of the Week” for all the six rounds and is the most deserving candidate to be awarded with the “Top Performer of the Month” honor.
Honorable Mention: Odafa Okolie (Churchill)
Top Goalkeeper of the month: Shilton Paul (Mohun Bagan)
It was a tough choice to select one among Shilton Pal and East Bengal’s Sandip Nandy. While Sandip has kept impressive five clean-sheets and conceded just one goal, Shilton finished on the losing side in 2 matches and conceded 7 goals. Based on consistency the honor should go to Sandip,–but we should also take into account the fact that Sandip was well supported by a strong back-line. On the otherhand, Shilton produced a number of outstanding saves to keep his team’s hope alive in almost all the matches. Mohun Bagan’s defense line is relatively weaker and this makes Shilton’s contribution vital. The away win against JCT and Mumbai FC can largely be attributed to Shilton’s fighting display. That’s why Shilton Paul is our choice for “Goalkeeeper of the Month” honor.
Honorable Mention: Sandip Nandy (East Bengal)
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Top Defender of the month: Naoba Singh (East Bengal)
Naoba has been the most impressive signing for Red-&-Gold brigade this season. He is solid in defending, has an excellent positioning sense, brilliant dribbling skill and most importantly an accurate cross. Morgan is utilizing his services not only in defense, but while attacking as well. With his marauding overlapping runs and pin point crosses in the opposition box, he is proving to be a nightmare for the rival fullbacks and that makes him TheHardTackle’s “Defender of the Month“.
Honorable Mention: Luciano Sabrosa (Salgaocar)
Top Midfielder of the month: Mehtab Hussain (East Bengal)
Well, obviously it has to be the “Double Cylinder” – our “Top Performer of the Month”. It was criminal on Bob Houghton’s part to deny him a ticket to Doha for representing Team India. The extremely hard working and talented midfielder must be wondering about what else he could have done to get the elusive national call up. Will Mr. Houghton bother to provide a justified answer?
Honorable Mention: Ryuiji Sueoka (Salgaocar)
Top Striker of the month: Odafa Okolie (Churchill Brothers)
It’s not surprising that Churchill owner Mr. Alemao made Odafa the highest paid player to have played in the Indian league in a bid to keep him at Margaon. Odafa scored 10 of Churchill’s 11 goals in the month of December and has already made a huge gap with other strikers in the Golden Boot race. Churchill’s attack reaches an altogether different level with Odafa in the playing XI. He is certainly one of the best strikers to play the beautiful game in this country. Football viewers of this generation are fortunate to watch such a complete striker plying his trade in the Indian football league.
Honorable Mention: Tolgay Ozbey (East Bengal)
Top Coach of the month: Subhash Bhowmick (Mohun Bagan)
The famous saying goes like this – “A coach is only as good as the team in his hand“. But here’s the man who can claim this saying as absurd – Subhash Bhowmick once again wielded his magic on the football dressing room with his famous “Vocal Tonic“. Accumulating only 1 point from the first 3 matches, Mohun Bagan was down and almost out. The then coach Stanley Rozario had a tough decision to make, whether to resign or get the sack. Finally he took the respectful path and rendered his resignation.
The Green-&-Maroon officials deemed a charismatic Subhash to be the right candidate to pull them out from the slumber and the veteran tactician did that in style. Since then Mohun Bagan, a team which had forgotten the recipe to win, managed to collect 7 points from the next 3 matches with 2 wins and 1 draw. “Midas Touch” – is the right word to depict the great man’s work.
Honorable Mention: Trevor James Morgan (East Bengal)
Top Game of the month: Salgaocar 4-3 Chirag United
The first Goa vs Kolkata fight in this edition of I-League had a nail biting finish – a match which witnessed the battle of tactics between two shrewd tacticians in this country – Karim Bencharifa and Subrata Bhattacharjee.
Salgaocar took a 2-0 lead in the first quarter of the match but Chirag fought back valiantly and pulled one back just at the stroke of half time through Brazilian striker Joshimar Martins. After the lemon break, Salgaocar academy product – Gilbert Olivera, who also scored the first goal of the match, took advantage of Chirag custodian Abhijit Mondal’s butter fingers to reclaim the two goal cushion for the home team in the 55th minute.
But Chirag was not finished yet. They made it 3-2 with just over 20 mins remaining and launched an all out attack on the Salgaocar fort. Salgaocar waited patiently and hit them on the counter to make it 4-2 with just 2 minutes of regulation time to be played. Chirag did not lose heart but could only manage to pull one back in the injury time through Junior Obagbemiro.
The final result was 4-3 in favor of Salgaocar and Chirag might just feel hard done by a couple of refereeing blunders. Bangalorean official Mr. Shekhar failed to spot a shameless foul inside the box on Denson Devadas by Salgaocar defender Jashpal Singh before ignoring a blatant handball by the Salgaocar captain Lusiano Sabrosa inside the box. It was unfortunate that the result of such a wonderful match got influenced by poor human errors. However such things do happen and over the course of a marathon campaign like I-League, it all evens out.
Honorable Mention: Mohun Bagan 2-2 Dempo
TheHardTackle’s Team of the month – Dec ’10:
Goalkeeper: Shilton Paul (Mohun Bagan)
The goalkeeper’s slot will be filled in by Mohun Bagan’s promising custodian Shilton Pal. East Bengal’s Sandip Nandy will serve as the back-up.
Honorable Mention: Sandip Nandy (East Bengal)
Defenders: Naoba Singh (East Bengal), Uga Okpara (East Bengal), Luciano Sabrosa (Salgaocar), Selwyn Fernandes (Pune FC)
At the heart of defense, we will have a foreign combination. East Bengal’s Uga Okpara will be partnerted by Salgaocar skipper Luciano Sabrosa. Both these players not only excelled in playing the defensive role, they also have a couple of goals each to their name. Both are strong and tall which adds to their advantage in dead-ball situations.
Naoba Singh is an automatic choice for the righ wing back position; partnering him on the left side of the pitch will be Pune FC’s Selwyn Fernandes who had an impressive season so far. Both Naoba and Selwyn are masters in overlapping and capable of providing the side with an all new attacking dimension.
Honorable Mentions: John Dias (Dempo), Arnav Mondal (Chirag), Gour Naskar (ONGC), Soumik Dey (East Bengal)
Midfielders: Sanju Pradhan (East Bengal), Mehtab Hussain (East Bengal), Ryuiji Sueoka (Salgaocar), Snehashish Chakraborty (Mohun Bagan)
The development of East Bengal winger Sanju Pradhan is on the right track. He has been a livewire on the pitch for the Red&Golds this season. It was because of his promising performances that East Bengal did not miss the likes of Alvito D’Cunha and Reisengmei Vasum, who are out injured since the beginning of the league campaign. Sanju can play on both the wings and the advantage of having him in the squad is that, if required, the wingers can switch flanks. Partnering him on the opposite flank will be Mohun Bagan’s Snehashish Chakraborty. Snehashish has been the only ray of hope for the Mariners, apart from Shilton, in their dismal campaign.
Mehtab Hussain is our pick to play the creator role from a slightly deep-lying position. Ryuiji Sueoka, who has already scored 5 goals in the opening month, will partner Mehtab in an advanced midfield position. Mehtab will also act as an defensive shield to destroy opposition’s rhythm during counter attacks.
Honorable Mentions: Shilton D’Silva (AIFF XI), Beto (Dempo), Xavier Vijoykumar (HAL), Bineesh Balan (Churchill)
Forwards: Odafa Okolie (Churchill), Tolgay Ozbey (East Bengal)
Odafa-Tolgay combination upfront has the potential to be the most lethal attacking partnership. There is no need to justify I-League’s four time Golden Boot winners inclusion in this elite team while Tolgay Ozbey has proved to be the most impressive debutant in I-League this season scoring at a impressive strike rate of one goal per match. While Odafa has a great poacher’s instinct, Tolgay can keep the defenders engaged with his ball control playing a support striker role – which would make this combination a treat to watch out for.
Honorable Mentions: Cliffton Gonsalves (Dempo), Junior Obagbemiro (Chirag United)