Chirag United continues to be a thorn in the flesh for the Red-&-Gold brigade. The eagerly anticipated Kolkata Derby between table toppers East Bengal and Chirag United ended in a goalless stalemate. In the absence of star striker Tolgay Ozbey, poor finishing by the Red-&-Gold strike force let Morgan down in this prestigious match. It could well have been much worse for East Bengal had Joshimar been able to convert the penalty awarded to Chirag in the 36th minute of the match. With this draw, East Bengal remains at the summit of I-League standings with 23 points from 9 matches, whereas Chirag United finds them at an impressive 5th place with 14 points in their kitty.
Karim Bencharifa’s Salgaocar side failed to capitalize on East Bengal’s slip-up as they succumbed to a humiliating 1-3 defeat against Subhash Bhowmick’s Green-&-Maroons. With a terrific goal by captain Ishfaq Ahmed and a brace from the come-back men Edeh Chidi, the Mariners pumped in 3 quick goals inside the first 20 minutes to almost wrap up the game in the first half. Salgaocar finally gave the score-line a little respectable look when Ryuji Sueoka converted a spot-kick in the 89th minute. Capturing all three points from the Goa trip, Mohun Bagan climbed up to the 7th position in the league table with 11 points. Salgaocar managed to retain the 2nd position with 18 points from 9 matches.
Churchill Brothers registered a 3-0 home victory against HAL SC to cut Salgaocar’s lead to 2 points and consolidate their 3rd position in the league table. A dull barren first half was followed by an entertaining second half as Bineesh Balan, Zakir and Kayne Vincent found the back of the net in quick succession to dash any hope of another giant-killing performance by the Bangalorean outfit. After an impressive start to the campaign, HAL is finding it extremely difficult to grind out results and has dropped back to the 11th position in the league standing with just 8 points.
ONGC tasted their first ever success in the top tier football as they produced a clinical performance to gun down Viva Kerala. Just a couple of minutes before the final whistle, N.D. Opara scored the only goal of the match to propel his side out of the relegation zone for the time being. With another defeat, their 4th in this edition, Viva Kerala returns back in to the drop zone, lying just above bottom of the table Air India.
Air India’s misery continues as a resurgent JCT FC notched up a comfortable 2-0 win in Ludhiana. This was the Millmen’s 3rd win in their last 4 matches and they are currently placed in the 8th slot with 11 points in their account. Ebi Sukore’s goal in the second half injury time came as a cruel blow for AIFF XI as they were robbed off a deserving win at Gurgaon. The young lads dominated the match and took the lead in the 10th minute through a Malswamfela strike. However the last minute slip up proved to be too costly as they missed a chance to claw their way back in the top half of the table. Mumbai FC accumulated 14 points from 9 games to sit pretty at the 6th position. With 9 points from as many matches, AIFF XI secured the 9th position after round 9.
Elsewhere at Margaon, Dempo SC made a superb fightback from 0-1 down till the 82nd minute to notch up a remarkable 2-1 victory against Pune FC. Mondjou Keita gave the visiting Red Lizards a surprise lead in the 13th minute against the current I-League Champions. Ranty Martins restored parity in the 82nd minute before Beto converted a spot kick couple of minutes later to complete a memorable victory for Armando Colaco’s side. Dempo and their Goan arch-rivals Churchill Brothers, both are tied on 16 points, but Churchill managed to retain its position in Top-3 with a superior goal difference.
Star of the Week: Beto (Dempo SC)
The Brazilian magician was the star performer for his Goan team in the remarkable fight back against Pune FC. Beto pulled the strings of attack from the Dempo midfield and provided his strikers with a number of accurate through balls. He provided the assist for Ranty Martin’s equalizer, before stepping up to calmly slot in the spot kick which eventually sealed the fate of the match. Icing on the cake for Beto could have been the sensational strike in the 90th minute which rattled the cross piece and rebounded back. Nevertheless, the Brazilian maestro was at his ruthless best and deserves the honor to be TheHardTackle’s star of the week.
Goal of the Week: Ishfaq Ahmed (Mohun Bagan)
It’s sort of a fairytale come-back for the Bagan skipper, who was deemed to be a surplus to the requirement under Stanley Rozario. Subhash Bhowmick’s pep talk has done wonders to the confidence of this talented winger and after Mr. Bhowmick has taken over the mettle at Bagan, Ishfaq has re-invented himself. In the match against Salgaocar, the Bagan skipper was once again at his menacing best with his trademark marauding runs through the left flank and drew the first blood for Green-&-Maroons with a fabulous strike. Sathish provided a measured cross from the right wing, and Ishfaq unleashed a scorcher from the edge of the box, which left even a top goalkeeper like Karanjit Singh flabbergasted. A top strike by a top performer. Ishfaq, take a bow!
Save of the Week: Rajat Ghosh Dastidar (ONGC SC)
One of the few rare players to have donned both the Red-&-Gold and Green-&-Maroon jerseys, current ONGC goalkeeper Rajat Ghosh Dastider proved his worth with an outstanding save. Around the hour mark, with the game tied at 0-0, Rajat came up with a spontaneous reaction save to deny Viva Kerala striker C.S. Sabeeth from a very close range. The ball seemed to be destined for the bottom right corner, before a divine intervention by Rajat deflected it away from the goal-line.
Miss of the Weak: Penn Orji (East Bengal)
The Nigerian midfielder will not feel very proud for getting nominated in this category for successive weeks. It was another day to forget for the Red-&-Gold craftsman as he failed to put a ball over the goal-line from just 10 yards out. Mehtab’s perfectly delivered free kick found Penn inside the Chirag penalty area with acres of space. But all the Nigerian could manage was to hit the ball straight at Chirag ‘keeper Abhijit Mondal. It was the tougher task not to score from that position, and Penn achieved the impossible for two weeks in a row. TheHardTackle recommends him a role in next “Mission Impossible” sequel – East Bengal faithful would certainly agree to that.
The Race for the Golden Boot Award:
Odafa Okolie (Churchill Brothers) – 15
Ryuiji Sueoka (Salgaocar) – 8
Tolgay Ozbey (East Bengal) – 7
Salgaocar’s Ryuiji Sueoka managed to leapfrog East Bengal’s Tolgay Ozbey to clinch the 2nd spot in the scoring chart and close the gap on leader Odafa Okolie, by scoring his team’s consolation goal from the spot in the loss against Bagan. Tolgay was suspended in this round and Odafa too missed the last match because of an injury. Four proven goal scorers – Beto, Ranty Martins, Yakubu and Junior – have scored 4 goals apiece and share the joint 4th spot behind Tolgay Ozbey.
The vast difference of quality between foreign strikers and their Indian counterparts is clearly visible as Indian top scorers, Robin Singh and Cliffton Gonsalves, failed to add to their kitty of 3 goals each and they thus share the 8th spot with five other foreign strikers.
TheHardTackle’s Team of the Week:
Goalkeeper: Shilton Pal (Mohun Bagan)
Shilton continued his excellent spell with another solid display against Salgaocar in their own backyard. The young shot-stopper pulled off a number of great saves from the likes of Sueoka, Yakubu and Anthony Barbosa, thus ensuring that Bagan leave Goa with all three points.
Defenders: Naoba Singh (East Bengal), Kingshuk (Mohun Bagam), Arnab (Chirag), Mohanraj (Mohun Bagan)
Kingshuk Debnath was a rock at the back for the Mariners. He did tremendously well to mark out dangerous Yusif Yakabu throughout the match. Similarly against East Bengal, Chirag United skipper Arnab Mondal produced a splendid display to hold the star-studded Red-&-Gold attack for a goal-less draw. TheHardTackle’s weekly team for round-9 will have these two young guns marshaling the heart of defense.
East Bengal right back Naoba Singh threatened to pour cold water on Chirag TD’s plan with his menacing overlapping run and measured aerial deliveries. He will be partnered by Mohun Bagan’s Nallappan Mohanraj on the opposite flank, who made a memorable I-League come-back against Salgaocar.
Midfielders: Zakir (Churchill), Beto (Dempo), Ishfaq (Mohun Bagan)
This time it would be a three men midfield comprising of three top performers in this week. Churchill Brothers’ MP Zakeer capped off a wonderful display with a goal. He will be partnering Beto, our Star of the Week, in the role of a play-maker. Mohun Bagan’s Ishfaq Ahmed’s will complete the midfield line-up.
Forwards: Edeh Chidi (Mohun Bagan), Mondjou Keita (Pune FC), Malswamfela (AIFF XI)
This is a completely new look forward line. All the three strikers just got their first cap in TheHardTackle’s “Team of the Week” for their valuable contribution in this round. While Chidi scored a first half brace against Salgaocar in his come-back match, Keita threatened Dempo SC defense with his pace and trickery, scoring the opening goal of the match. Malswamfela, Indian under-23 striker, proved to be too hot to handle for the Mumbai FC defense as he chipped in with a fabulous strike to earn a point for his side.