Another unbeaten week for Trevor Morgan and another week atop the standings of the I-League for East Bengal. This time it was Churchill Brothers that came and threatened the invincibility of The Red-&-Golds but to no avail. Churchill was lucky to hold on to a point at the end after an injury time strike from Kayne Vincent was enough to earn them a point. 2-2 it finished on a hot afternoon at The Yuba Bharati Kirarangan between the first and third placed teams of the League. After a goalless first half, the game sprang into life when Denzil Franco brought down Penn Orji inside the penalty box resulting in a spot kick for the home team. The penalty was coolly slotted home by Sanju Pradhan giving East Bengal the lead.
In the 68th minute Churchill got the equalizer after a measured cross by Steven Dias found the head of Vincent who headed in past Sandip Nandy. But their joy lasted for less than 120 seconds, as Tolgay Ozbay restored East Bengal’s lead after former Churchill Brothers defender Naoba Singh – who was playing his first game against his former club – turned provider. Just as the large crowd was celebrating the home team’s win, Vincent turned another Steven Dias beauty from a corner giving Churchill Brothers a precious point deep into stoppage time.
It was difficult to tell after the match whether it was a point gained or two lost for East Bengal but nevertheless Trevor Morgan will be pleased that his side is still unbeaten going into their final match of the first leg where they face off their old foes Mohun Bagan. Churchill coach Vincent Subramanium will be pleased that his side got a valuable point but it still leaves them seven points off the crest of the table.
East Bengal still remain top but it was Salgaocar that eventually turned out to be the beneficiary. The Goan giants cut the lead at the top to just three points after a hard fought 1-0 away victory against Mumbai FC. Once again it was Ryuji Sueoka’s goal that gave Salgaocar the three points. Yakubu was back for them after missing the last two games due to injury and turned provider for Sueoka to slot home. Salgaocar remain in Kolhapur for a crucial match against Air India on Thursday knowing that a win could see them cut the lead even more considering East Bengal have a tough Kolkata derby match and are most likely to drop points. Khalid Jamil will be happy the way his lads fought hard to match their illustrious Goan rivals, however he would be a bit disappointed that his team couldn’t create more chances. They remain in fourth position just ahead of Dempo Sports Club.
Air India continued their revival of sorts after holding mighty Mohun Bagan to a 1-1 draw at Kolhapur. Subhash Bhowmick surprisingly left Bagan’s two best players this season – Chidi Edeh and Ishfaq Ahmed on the bench – as a precautionary measure ahead of the big Kolkata derby. It clearly cost them as Manjit Singh gave the Airmen the lead with his second goal in as many matches. Without Chidi and Ishfaq, Mohun Bagan missed the creativity from midfield and Ashim Biswas was clearly finding it difficult to fit into Chidi’s big boots. Snehashish and Gouranga too struggled on the flanks leaving Barreto with nothing to play with.
Thankfully Bhowmick brought in Chidi immediately after the restart and Bagan were immediately rewarded with a goal in the 58th minute after Barreto headed in a Dhanarajan cross. After that it was all Mohun Bagan with The Mariners threatening to score off every move. But the Air India defence stood strong and held on for a vital point that Yusuf Ansari would be glad to settle for. Goalkeeper Kunal Sawant made some great saves and Dhanachandran Singh and Santosh Koli did a fabulous job at stopper back to earn a valuable point for Air India. This point brought Air India out of the bottom two for the first time since December. They have nine points now and are in 12th place. Although its still a long way to go before they assure themselves of safety, coach Ansari will be reminding his boys that dishing out performances like these would definitely mean they would be playing top flight football next season.
In the other Bengal-Mumbai clash Chirag United piled on the misery for Subrata Bhattacharya (Jr), outclassing ONGC 4-2 at Kolkata. Junior Elijah back from injury made a scoring return to the Chirag line up banging in one goal and assisting for Joshimar and Lalkamal’s goals. Denson Devdas scored the other one for Chirag. Babatunde scored a brilliant brace, albeit for a losing cause. ONGC suffered their 6th loss of the season and remain rooted at the bottom of the table.
Dempo Sports Club bounced back after a terrible ten days, notching up a comfortable 3-0 win over HAL at Bangalore. Ranti Martins made amends for his horrendous showing in the previous two games by bagging a brace. Beto scored the third for Dempo, once again underlying his importance to the team. Dempo produced a much better performance after the return of their Team India trio – Climax, Cifford and Mahesh. Climax assisted Ranti for the first goal and Clifford had a hand in the second. Mahesh too had a good game at the back partnering Domnic Noronha. Joaquim Abranches took a brief part in the game after coming on as a second half substitute giving Armando Colaco a full strength side for the first time this season. Armando will be delighted to finally have all his players back and he will be hoping that the worst is behind him as he prepares his team for important battles in Asia. For HAL it was their second home loss in as many games but they would certainly look forward to their next game at home against fellow struggles ONGC. A win there could open up a gap between the relegation strugglers.
Indian Arrows lived up to their new name striking down Viva Kerala by a solitary goal at Kannur. Subodh Kumar got the goal for the India U-23 lads while for Viva Kerala it condemned them to the relegation zone. Clearly Viva Kerala needs to pull up their socks for the second leg if they are to avoid relegation. In the final game of Round 12, what everyone thought would be a dull draw turned out to be a party for the spectators at Balewadi. Guinean Mandjou Keita smashed the third hat trick of this years League giving Pune a 4-0 win over JCT. It was a welcome win for Pune FC, their first since December, giving Derrick Pereira some breathing space. Their second half blitz saw them score 4 goals in 30 minutes. Ahsim Hassan scored the fourth for Pune. For JCT it was their second straight loss.
Star Of The Week: Keita Mandjou (Pune FC)
Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Man. Derrick’s Pune were clearly struggling and it was time for them to show some character in front of their home fans. After losing their last four games, Pune FC turned to their star who last year had a tremendous season for Salgaocar. And he didin’t disappoint them scoring three goals that certainly gave the suffering Pune fans something to cheer about at last. His third goal was a delightful chip over an on rushing JCT keeper Naveen Kumar.
Goal Of The Week: Aseem Hassan (Pune FC)
Pune FC take this honour too after a 35 yard scorcher from Aseem Hassan beat the JCT keeper Karanjit Singh all ends up. Collecting the ball from midfield, Aseem ran inside and unleashed a ripper that curled ferociously giving the keeper with absolutely no chance.
Save Of The Week : Sandip Nandy (East Bengal)
Sandip Nandy is getting better with age and certainly better after every game. He has been East Bengal’s outstanding player this season. In the 18th minute of the match, the former India number produced the save of the season. First he dived to his left and did extremely well to block Vincent’s shot from just 10 yards out; the rebound fell for Boima Karpeh, who unleashed a screamer towards the far post. But Sandip was equal to the task and pulled off another diving stop. The former India goalkeeper made another stunning save off a Steven Dias free kick to deny Churchill a goal. Steven curled the shot around the wall but Nandy came up with a stunning one handed save to turn the ball out for a corner.
Miss Of The Week: Robin Singh (East Bengal)
The young East Bengal striker’s misery in front of goal continued against Churchill as well. After missing an easy tap in header in the 7th minute of the match, Robin blankfired again at the stroke of half time whistle. Mehtab Hussain produced a beauty from a dead ball situation to find Robin inside the Churchill box completely unmarked, with only the goalie to beat, Robin fired it at the cross-piece wasting another golden opportunity.
Shocker Of The Week : Indian Arrows 1-0 Viva Kerala
Viva Kerala were playing at home and were buoyed by the signing of Indian star N.P. Pradeep and Chinta Chandrashekar. However it didn’t go according to plan for P.K. Kunnihkrishnan. His team promised a lot but delivered very little on the day. In the end Subodh Kumar’s goal was enough to give Indian Arrows another win that takes them to 8th in the table.
The Race For The Golden Boot
Odafa Okolie (Churchill Brothers): 15
Ryuji Sueoka (Salgaocar): 12
Tolgay Ozbay (East Bengal): 9
Ebi Sukore (Mumbai FC): 6
Edeh Chidi (Mohun Bagan): 6
Ranty Martins (Dempo SC): 6
Kayne Vincent (Churchill Brothers) : 6
Ryuji is slowly but surely catching up with the Nigerian. His goal against Mumbai FC took his tally to 12 for the season. In fact the Japanese has now scored in his last five games for Salgaocar. It will be interesting to see how this battle shapes up now that Odafa is returning to full fitness after playing the last five minutes against East Bengal. Tolgay too scored one, taking his tally to 9. Vincent is the new addition to the list. His two goals against East Bengal took his tally to six for the season; putting him in 4th splace in the scoring chart along with Ebi Sukore, Edeh Chidi and Ranty Martins.
TheHardTackle’s Team Of The Week:
Goalkeeper: Karanjit Singh (Salgaocar)
Although he didn’t have much to do against Mumbai FC he was equal to the task when he was called for and kept another clean slate. The former U-23 India keeper is proving to be a smart acquisition for Karim Bencherifa this season. Since moving from JCT in the summer he has started every game for Salgaocar and has developed a very good understanding with Luciano Sabrosa at the back. For keeping a clean sheet and helping his side take all three points, he makes it into TheHardTackle’s team of the week.
Defenders: Naoba Singh (East Bengal), Kingshuk Debnath (Mohun Bagan), Gurjinder Singh (Pune FC), Khelemba Meeitei (Salgaocar)
We have lost count on how many times Naoba Singh has made it to the team of the week – testament to his unfailing consistency. He is slowly becoming an indispensable part of Trevor Morgans invincibles. After another superb performance, both in attack and defence, he onceagain takes the right back position. Kingshuk Debnath also had a brilliant outing at the back for Mohun Bagan and he along with Pune FC’s Gurjinder Singh, who provided a brilliant corner to assist in Keita’s second goal, made it to the centre of defence. At left back for the first time this season we have Salgaocar’s Khelemba Meeitei. The young Manipuri was the official Man Of The Match at Kolhapur.
Midfielders: Ryuji Sueoka (Salgaocar), Beto (Dempo), Denson Devdas (Chirag United),
Denson played the role of an anchor man to perfection, even popping up with a goal. He makes it to the team of the week and start on the left side of the midfield. Although Beto was mainly used as a striker against HAL after the return of Climax Lawrence, he will be equally useful in midfield as a playmaker. Ryuji Sueoka, who continued his goal scoring run, makes it to the right of midfield.
Strikers: Keita Manjdou (Pune FC), Kayne Vincent (Churchill Brothers), Jonior Elijah (Chirag United)
The Guinean striker has finally come good this season. After having a terrific last season on loan for Salgaocar from MLS side Portland Timbers, it was no surprise that Derrick Pereira snapped him this season. But injury forced him to miss the start of the League and his form was waning. His performance in the previous game augurs well for Pune FC. He scored the third hat trick of the season, after the first two coming from the boots of Odafa.
Vincent is fast becoming the first name on Churchill’s team sheet. The New Zealander has been sensational for Churchill since joining them on loan. He has scored 6 goals for them in little over a month making light of Odafa’s absence. Chirag coach Sanjay Sen must be a relieved man now that his goal-machine Junior is back from a long injury lay-off. The striker produced a scintillating performance against ONGC, winning the official man of the match award, scoring one and assisting in two other goals.