The I-League points table is getting tediously monotonous with East Bengal at the summit of the standings for the 8th successive round. The Red-&-Gold brigade extended their unbeaten run to 11 matches as Morgan’s men registered their 9th win of the campaign against a stubborn HAL SC in round 11 – thanks to a Frank Lampard-esque strike by Penn Orji in the 38th minute of the match. This was East Bengal’s 7th 1-0 win in this season and while a few fans are concerned by the manner in which the Red-&-Gold strikers are competing with each other in wasting golden opportunities in front of opposition goal, most of the fans reckon that it’s the champion’s luck which is helping Trevor Morgan’s side to notch up clinical results. Morgan will not be too bothered till his team continues the winning streak, but Toly-Roly’s poor finishing may prove to be disasterous when East Bengal face tougher challenges in next couple of rounds – against Churchill Brothers and the city rivals Mohun Bagan.
The pursuit of the I-League title inspired Salgaocar to keep the pace with run away leaders East Bengal as Karim Bencharifa’s men notched up a fighting 2-0 win over Sukhwinder Singh-led resurgent JCT outfit. Ryuiji Sueoka scored the first goal of the match with a perfectly placed header off a Gilbert Olivera cross, around the half-an-hour mark. Left Winger Francis then went on to wipe out all the hopes for JCT with a fabulous strike in the dying moments of the match. The Goan Greens collected 24 points after round 11 and lie in the second spot, 5 points adrift of the table topper Red-&-Gold brigade.
Riding on another Ebi Sukore goal, his 6th of the season, Mumbai FC clinched the 11th round Maharastra Derby against ONGC FC. With this win, MFC have collected 20 points from 11 games and lie 4th in the table, just below Churchill Brothers. Pune FC welcomed back India’s Asian Cup hero Subrata Pal in their squad, but even the presence of the inspirational custodian failed to motivate Derrick Pereira’s men as they went down by a solitary goal against Vincent Subramaniam’s Churchill Brothers outfit. In Odafa Okolie’s absence, New Zealander Kayne Vincent scored the only goal of the match for the Goan giants around the hour mark.
Chidi Edeh scored another brace, his third double in as many matches, to inspire Mohun Bagan to their 5th win of the season. Subhash Bhowmick’s men clawed their way back to the 5th spot, relegating defending champions Dempo to the sixth place, after Armando Colaco’s boys suffered a humiliating 4-0 drubbing at the hands of bottom-placed Air India. Elsewhere, at Kannur, a late second half goal by Anil Kumar helped Viva Kerala to share the honors with the other Kolkata side, Chirag United. Chirag dominated the match and took a deserving lead in the 49th minute through Mohammed Rafiq, however to the delight of local fans, Viva restored parity when Anil Kumar slotted the ball home with 10 minutes to go for the final whistle.
Star of the Week: Edeh Chidi (Mohun Bagan)
The Nigerian hitman once again proved to be too hot to handle for the opposition defenders as he notched up his third brace since making his comeback from a long injury layoff. Chidi helped Mohun Bagan to clinch their third consecutive win as he found the back of the net once in each half against AIFF XI. The way Chidi bounced back from a personal grief deserves a special mention here. Even after hearing the news of his mother’s death, the striker decided to stay back to bring his side’s derailed campaign back on track, such is his professionalism and commitment towards the club. “I Miss You Mother” was written in bold red letters on Chidi’s inner vest as the striker paid tribute to his mother by dedicating the goals to her. We, at TheHardTackle, salute Chidi’s professional attitude which also earns him TheHardTackle’s Star of the Week award.
Goal Of The Week: Penn Orji (East Bengal)
The goal brought back the memory of the England vs Germany match in the recently concluded FIFA World Cup. Penn Orji’s thunderous left footer kissed the bottom of the wooden cross-piece before landing inside the goal-line and coming out. Fortunately for the Red-&-Gold brigade, the linesman spotted the ball passing the goal-line and the goal stood despite heated protests by the HAL players. However, compared to the great finish, the swift build-up that led to the goal was more appealing. It all started with Mehtab Hussain’s delightful defense-splitting through ball, which found Tolgay at the edge of the box. Tolgay played a square pass to Naoba, Naoba played a little one-two with Robin Singh inside the box and the latter did the right thing by not going for the glory himself, instead he passed it to an unmarked Penn Orji who made no mistake to put the ball in the back of the net. The beautiful one touch passing football was on display there, and Morgan would feel proud of his boys who are consistently playing 10-15 passes among them with utmost ease.
Save Of The Week: Karanjit Singh (Salgaocar), Kunal Sawant (Air India)
The Salgaocar goalkeeper had a superb outing against his former employers, JCT. He made quite a few brilliant stops to earn his team another clinical win. A couple of minutes after the lemon break, with Salgaocar taking a one goal-lead through Ryuiji Sueoka, Tomba Singh brought down Jagpreet at the edge of the Salgaocar box. Badru Keke Ibrahim cleverly fired a bullet along the ground, just when the Salgaocar wall jumped up in anticipation; however, Karanjit was equal to the task as he produced a great diving stop to deny Ibrahim his moment of glory.
In the match against Air India, Dempo got a penalty when Uttam Singh brought down Ranty Martins inside the box. Ranty himself went for the spot kick, but the young Air India ‘keeper Kunal Sawant correctly anticipated the ball and dived to his right to produce the most important stop in his budding football career. A point to be noted here – this was Ranty Martins third penalty miss of the season.
Miss of The Week:Tolgay Ozbey (East Bengal)
The East Bengal striker duo’s woes in front of goal refuse to go away as they continue to disappoint the Red-&-Gold fans with wayward finishing. Against HAL SC, the Red-&-Gold brigade could have won by 5-6 goals, but Robin and Tolgay continued to miss the target with alarming frequency, sometimes aiming straight at the woodwork. The best chance of the match fell for the Australian striker in the 22nd minute as he was gifted a goal on the platter by Mehtab Hussain via Robin Singh. The HAL keeper, Pramod, came off his line to make the angle difficult for Robin, who did the right thing by forwarding the ball to an unmarked Tolgay. However, with an open net to aim for, the striker did the unthinkable from just six yards out as he failed to even get a touch. It will not be very surprising if we come to know that Mr. Trevor Morgan has ordered for a hair-dryer last night itself.
Shocker of The Week: Air India 4-0 Dempo SC
It might be regarded as one of the biggest upsets in the history of I-League. Air India, the team which could not win a single match in the first 10 rounds, pumped in four goals past the defending champions Dempo SC. The Airmen took a surprise lead in the 13th minute through Manjit Singh before John Dias made the matters complicated for Armando Colaco by scoring an own goal in the 25th minute. Samsong Singh scored another for the struggling Mumbai side just after the break to make it tougher for the most successful team in I-League history. However, the drama was far from over yet, as the Pilots went on to add the fourth goal of the match in stoppage time to complete a glorious victory, their first win of the season. But even this moral-boosting win could not propel them up from the relegation zone. With 8 points from 11 games, they almost are at the bottom of the table, floating just one point above ONGC FC.
The Race For The Golden Boot Award:
Odafa Okolie (Churchill Brothers): 15
Ryuji Sueoka (Salgaocar): 11
Tolgay Ozbay (East Bengal): 8
Ebi Sukore (Mumbai FC): 6
In the absence of Odafa, Sueoka did well to notch up another goal to take his tally to 11, just four behind Odafa who missed the third game in a row. Tolgay failed to increase to his tally and remains a distant 3rd with 8 goals to his name. Mumbai FC’s Ebi Sukore, who has made it a habit to score in almost every match, notched up another one against ONGC FC to clinch the 4th spot with 6 goals. At an average of 2.14 goals per match, the 77 matches so far have produced 165 goals, but the Indian strikers’ lean patch refuses to expire. Robin Singh, Cliffton Gonsalves and Anil Kumar share 3 goals each to top the chart among Indian players.
TheHardTackle’s Team of The Week:
Goal Keeper: Sandip Nandy (East Bengal)
The veteran Red-&-Gold goalkeeper added another clean-sheet to his tally, the 9th of the season, and made his return to our weekly team with another masterful display against HAL SC. Sandip is also the goalkeeper to concede least number of goals in this campaign. He has been beaten only twice so far in this I-League season, while a distant second in the list is JCT’s Pawan Kumar, who has conceded 8 goals in equal number of matches.
Defenders: Naoba Singh (East Bengal), Gurwinder Singh (East Bengal), Luciano Sabrosa (Salgaocar), Robert Lalthalma (Churchill Brothers)
The Salgaocar captain, Luciano Sabrosa, produced another ‘man of the match’ performance against JCT and he would marshal the defensive resources in our round-11 weekly team. Gurwinder Singh, the young East Bengal centre-back, often gets overshadowed by his more illustrious partner Uga Okpara, but this time he will deservingly partner Sabrosa at the heart of the defense.
We have an unchanged line-up for the full back slots as both Naoba Singh and Robert Lalthalma did admirably well to retain their places as the right-back and left-back respectively.
Midfielders: Mehtab Hussain (East Bengal), Samson Singh (Air India), Ryuji Sueoka (Salgaocar), Ishfaq Ahmed (Mohun Bagan)
Mehtab Hussain returned back to action after missing his side’s last outing due to suspension. The East Bengal midfielder quickly settled in to the game and pumped in several delightful through balls, playing the deep-lying playmaker role to create opportunities for the strikers. He will be partnered by Ryuiji Sueoka, in a more advanced position, behind the two strikers.
It will be an all-captain partnership on the wings as Mohun Bagan skipper Ishfaq Ahmed, playing on the left wing, will be supported by Air India skipper Samsong Singh on the right. Ishfaq carried on his excellent form with another assist for Chidi’s first goal, while Samsong Singh scored a brilliant goal just after the half time break against Dempo to claim his first nomination in TheHardTackle’s Team of the Week.
Strikers: Edeh Chidi (Mohun Bagan), Okorgor Praise (Air India)
Who else but Chidi Edeh, our Star of the Week, to lead the attack for this week’s team! He will be partnered upfront by another Nigerian, Okorgor Praise of Air India, who capped off a brilliant game against Dempo, with a goal and an assist to his name.