Salgaocar went three points clear of second placed East Bengal at the top of the standings as they notched up a convincing 4-1 win over Chirag United away from home in the fifteenth round. Ghanaian striker Yusif Yakubu was in sublime touch and scored the equalizer for Salgaocar after Junior had given the home team an early lead. The marching orders for Denson Devadas early in the match proved to be the deciding factor as a goal from Francis Fernandes and a brace by Ekene Ikenwa in the second half ensured Karim Bencharifa’s boys bagged all three points in this challenging away fixture. East Bengal, tied on points with the table toppers after the last round of matches, had their round-15 match against Dempo SC postponed due to AFC Cup commitments and they lie in the second spot 3 points adrift of Salgaocar with a match in hand. Churchill Brothers, after a disappointing loss in round-14, bounced back with a thumping 3-1 home win against JCT. Omoloza Karim gave JCT an early lead before Indian international Mohammed Rafi equalized for Vincent Subramaniam’s team just at the stroke of half time. In the second half MP Zakeer and Boima Karpeh struck in quick succession to give the home team 3-1 lead to nip in the bud any hopes of revival for Sukhi’s boys. Vincent Subramaniam’s boys are currently slotted at the 3rd position 5 points behind table topper Salgaocar SC.
ONGC and Indian Arrows played out a 1-1 draw at Kohlapur. After a barren first half which hardly produced any goal scoring opportunity for either of the teams, Arrows broke the dead-lock in the 82nd minute when Jeje Lalpekhlua found the back of the net with a sublime header. But their joy did not last long as Kamal Thapa equalized for the institutional side in added time to share the honors. Kolkata giant Mohun Bagan drew their fourth successive match as they were held to a 1-1 away draw by HAL SC in Bangalore. There was a decent crowd at the venue and Surkumar Singh struck around the half-an-hour mark much to the joy of the 5000 strong Bangalore-based Bengali crowd on a lazy Sunday afternoon at the Kantheerva Stadium. However, HAL skipper J. Murali responded almost immediately to equalize in the 38th minute. The Mariners tried their best as the clock ran down, to unlock a stubborn HAL SC defense but without any success.
Elsewhere at Kannur, Viva Kerala produced a sublime brand of attacking football to demolish fellow relegation strugglers Air India 7-1 and moved out of the relegation zone for the time being. Led by an inspirational N.P. Pradeep at the heart of the midfield, Viva Kerala produced one of their best performances in the history of the I-League and went for the lemon break with a 2-0 lead. They scored 5 more goals in the second period to bag the record for scoring the highest number of goals in a match in this edition of I-League. Anil Kumar scored a hat-trick, while T. Karma registered a brilliant brace. N.P. Pradeep and Felix scored the other two goals for Kunhikrishnan’s side. For Air India the solitary consolation goal was scored by Okorogor Praise. The other match of round-15 between Pune FC and Mumbai FC has been rescheduled to the 15th of May because of the upcoming pre-Olympic qualifier game which is scheduled to be played on Pune FC’s home ground at Balewadi.
Star of the Week: Anil Kumar (Viva Kerala)
Anil Kumar, the lanky striker, produced one of the most scintillating hat-tricks of the season and paved the way for N.P. Pradeep’s goal with a sublime back volley. He opened the floodgates in the 8th minute of the match with a perfect header off a measured cross from Chinta Chandrasekhar and notched up two more goals in the 49th and 83rd minute to complete a remarkable hat-trick. T. Karma provided the assists for Anil Kumar’s second and third goal.
Goal of the Week: Yusif Yakubu (Salgaocar SC)
It was the veteran Ghanaian striker’s 110th goal on Indian soil in 181 matches. Trailing by 1-0 at that time, Yakubu received a through ball from the right just outside the Chirag box and exhibited excellent ball control to fox his marker and enter inside the D. He then dribbled past Chirag center back Chika Wali and unleashed a right footer that rocketed to the back of the Chirag net, giving the stand-in goalie Somnath Khara absolutely no chance to stop it. Omoloja Kareem’s screamer of a freekick which earned JCT their consolation goal of the match against Churchill Brothers deserves a mention here.
Save of the Week: Pramod P (HAL SC)
The young custodian was at his very best against the Mariners and he kept his team in the game by producing a number of good stops. The best save of the match came just after the half time break. With both the teams tied on 1-1 at the break, Rakesh Masih provided a measured cross for Muritala Ali inside the HAL box, the experienced striker fired a right-footer from a close range, but could not beat Pramod under the HAL woodwork. The talented shot-stopper dived to his left and produced a remarkable reflex save to earn a valuable point for his side.
Miss of the Week: Boima Karpeh (Churchill Brothers)
Boima Karpeh got Vincent Subramaniam’s nod to feature in the starting line-up leaving the in-form striker Kayne Vincent to warm the substitute’s bench. But the Liberian-Australian striker hardly did anything worth mentioning to justify his coach’s trust in him. He missed three absolute sitters and the second half miss from a Steven Dias cross, despite being in a one-on-one position with the goalkeeper at close range ought to be a crime!
The Race for the Golden Boot Award:
Odafa Okolie (Churchill Brothers) : 15
Ryuji Sueoka (Salgaocar) : 13
Tolgay Ozbay (East Bengal) : 9
Kayne Vincent(Churchill Brothers) : 8
Ranti Martins (Dempo) : 8
Elijah Junior (Chirag): 8
Ebi Sukore (Mumbai FC) : 7
Churchill’s star-striker Odafa Okolie missed his seventh consecutive match due to injury but Salgaocar’s Ryuji Sueoka failed to close the gap further in this round. After the conclusion of fifteenth round matches Sueoka has 13 goals to his name compared to Odafa’s 15. Among the Top-7 scores, only Elijah Junior found the back of the net in round-15 and he moves a place up to the joint 4th spot with 8 goals, sharing the honors with Churchill’s Kayne Vincent and Dempo’s Ranty Martins.
TheHardTackle’s Team Of The Week:
Goalkeeper: Pramod P (HAL SC)
Against the Mariners at home, Pramod was the man to watch out for the Bangalore-based institutional side. Although it was J. Murali who walked away with the official man of the match award, it was Pramod who single-handedly kept his side in the game by pulling off some amazing stops.
Defenders: Surkumar Singh (Mohun Bagan), Luciano Sabrosa (Salgaocar), Kamal Thapa (ONGC),
For the first time this season, we are opting for a 3-men back-line. Luciano Sabrosa, the Salgaocar captain hardly put a foot wrong in the match against Chirag and marshaled his defensive resources to perfection. He gets his place back at the heart of the defense. Both Surkumar Singh and Kamal Thapa rounded off their solid performances with a goal each against HAL SC and Indian Arrows respectively. They will occupy the two full back slots.
Midfielders: Steven Dias (Churchill), Lenny Rodrigues (Churchill), Murali J (HAL SC), Francis Fernandes (Salgaocar), Karma T (Viva Kerala)
Lenny Rodrigues, an exciting new prospect from Goa, makes his first appearance in the Team of the Week riding on the back of a man of the match performance against JCT. He will be the anchor man in this midfield and will be supported by the HAL captain Murali J. Steven Dias had another assured game on the right flank, lending whipping in crosses after crosses tirelessly in to the box for his strikers to poach in. Salgaocar’s find of the season Francis Fernandes will partner Dias on the opposite flank. Francis has been a revelation for Karim Bencharifa this season and having him in the team, the chances of scoring from set-pieces increase by a couple of notches because of his amazing aerial skills. Karma T, who scored a brace and assisted in two other goals against Air India will be playing as an attacking midfielder, in the hole just behind the two strikers.
Strikers: Anil Kumar (Viva Kerala), Ekene Ikenwa (Salgaocar),
These two are obvious choices. Anil Kumar deserves a place in the squad for his brilliant hat-trick against Air India, while Ekene’s short but crisp 30 minute cameo was enough to break Chirag’s resistance paving the way for Salgaocar to stay on top of the standings for yet another week.