Salgaocar stormed to a virtual five points lead over East Bengal, after a clinical performance by Karim’s men was followed by an insipid one from the Red-&-Golds. A 3-0 win over Bangalore-based HAL SC took Salgaocar’s tally to 40 points from 17 games, while the surprise loss against Mumbai FC nipped East Bengal’s hopes of closing in on the league leaders as they remain on 32 points with a match in hand. Even if East Bengal manages to win their postponed match against Dempo SC, Salgaocar’s lead will cut short to 5 points – which is massive considering the fact that it would be close to impossible to cover up 5 points cushion in only 9 remaining games.
After a barren first half in Maragaon’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Salgaocar broke HAL SC’s gritty defending with the help of a Yusif Yakubu strike, just after the hour mark. Soon the young promising duo of Francis-Gilbert made it 2-0 for the home side when Gilbert Oliviera got his name in the scoring chart for the third successive time. Substitute Ekene Ikenwa continued his goal scoring form as he notched up the third goal for his team with a minute to go on the clock. Salgaocar are now looking like the firm favorites to land the crown to Goa, unless something really dramatic happens in last few round of matches.
Trevor Morgan’s East Bengal side, who missed the nucleus of the team against Mumbai FC, as Mehtab, Penn, Okpara, Tolgay, Sushanth, Khabra – all were unavailable either due to suspension or injury, threatened to take an early lead as they created waves of attack towards MFC fort early into the match. However, totally against the run of play, Henry Ezeh gave the visiting side an early lead in the 11th minute. East Bengal, shocked by the surprise goal, went in to an all out attacking mode in search of the equalizer only to be brought back to reality after conceding another goal in the 25th minute. From then onwards, it was continuous one way traffic towards Mumbai FC box, but the Red-&-Gold strikers’ finishing woes continued, as they failed to beat a spirited Ishaan Debnath in MFC goal. Just before the final whistle Biswarup Dey pulled one back; but it was too little too late. MFC remains on 5th position ahead of the other Kolkata giant – Mohun Bagan. By losing this game, East Bengal experienced their first home defeat at the Salt Lake Stadium this season.
Mohun Bagan got the better of Viva Kerala in a crucial fixture at Kolkata, to avenge their defeat in the first leg. Subir Muritala Ali drew the first blood for the Mariners just after the half-hour mark to open his goal scoring account in this league edition. Jose Barreto, coming on as a substitute late in the second half, scored his 22nd goal on Indian soil as he put the game to bed five minutes from time. However, Viva were not finished yet, C.S. Sabeeth pulled one back for the Kerala side in the first minute of injury time to revive a slight ray of hope for the visiting team; however, Mohun Bagan ensured all three points by defending deep in the remaining 120 seconds to clinch the tie 2-1.
Churchill Brothers registered their 9th win of the season, riding on one goal each from Odafa Okolie and Kayne Vincent, to conjure up another 2-1 win against Indian Arrows, away from home. Jeje Lalpekhlua scored the consolation goal for the Arrows a minute prior to the final whistle. The I-League newcomers, ONGC FC, will certainly feel that they have been robbed off a well deserved point against the defending champions, Dempo SC, when a Ranty Martins strike in the 89th minute sealed the fate of the match in favor of the Goan outfit. With this win Dempo remain in contention for the league crown being placed at 4th spot, 9 points adrift of table topper Salgaocar SC. ONGC looks certain to get the axe; as they are currently occupying the 14th and the last spot, waiting for a miracle to save them of the relegation embarrassment.
Elsewhere at Pune, relegation battlers Air India scared the hell out of the home team, Pune FC, going down 2-1 against the Red Lizards. Okorogor Praise continued to impress as he found the back of the net with a sublime volley just before the half-hour mark to send the Balewadi crowd in anticipation of another set back. However, staying true to their tag of “Come-back Kings“, Pune FC staged a brilliant fight back in the second half to notch up two quick goals in a mesmerizing spell of five minutes to come out unscathed. Edmar Figueira leveled the score-line in the 77th minute before Japanese midfielder Arata Izumi gave the home supporters a reason to cheer for in the 82nd minute.
Star of the Week: Edmar Figueira (Pune FC)
With a goal and an assist to his name, Pune FC’s Brazilian striker Edmar Figueira grabs TheHardTackle’s Star of the Week award. Edmar brought things back on level terms with a sublime strike from Asim Hasan’s cross in the 77th minute of the match to cancel out Okorogor Praise’s 28th minute strike for the Airmen. A few minutes later, the Balewadi stadium erupted in joy when the striker flicked a clever back-heal on the path of Arata Izumi, who slotted the ball past Souvik Mondal in his second attempt to cap off a memorable comeback for Derrick Pereira’s Red army.
Goal of the Week: Gilbert Oliviera (Salgaocar SC)
A youth product of Salgaocar Academy, Gilbert Oliviera, has come off age in this I-League edition. The young sensation, who is wearing the prestigious number 10 jersey for the Goan Greens, has already scored 5 goals and provided 6 assists in this campaign. Once again he re-paid the faith of his coach with a fabulous goal against HAL SC in round-17. The build-up to the goal was even more exciting than the finish. Francis Fernandes, received the ball on the left side of the midfield, and spotted Gilbert’s prowling off-the-ball run. He provided a great forward pass to Gilbert through the middle of the park; Gilbert dribbled past one HAL defender before releasing the ball for Francis on the left. The winger then cut inside and played a sequence of passes with Gilbert before the latter went for a thunderous right footer along the ground which beat the outstretched fingers of HAL goalie Pramod to find the back of the net.
Save of the Week: Ishaan Debnath (Mumbai FC)
The promising Mumbai FC shot-stopper was at his best against East Bengal in round-17. Ishaan pulled off a number of brilliant saves throughout the match to help his side earn three invaluable points against the Red-&-Golds. He set the tone of the match right at the beginning by making a wonderful save to deny Reisangmei Vasum his moment of glory in the 9th minute of the match. Baljit Sahni was brought down at the edge of the MFC box and the referee duly awarded a free-kick from approximately 20 yards out. In the absence of Mehtab Hussain, Vasum stepped up to take over the dead-ball duty and unleashed a curling shot which seemed destined to kiss the far top corner. However, Ishaan was equal to the task and he acrobatically dived to his left to produce a one handed stunner to keep his side in the reckoning.
Miss of the Week: Robin Singh (East Bengal)
East Bengal strikers are making this section their own. The Red-&-Golds have made a reputation of missing open nets and it was nothing different against Mumbai FC as well. After Tolgay Ozbey and Penn Orji, this is Robin Singh’s turn to grace this segment with one of the most spectacular misses of the season. Just before the half time whistle, Robin got a golden chance to reduce the deficit when he was superbly spotted by Vasum with a defense splitting pass. In an one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper, Robin succeeded to pull out Ishan off his line, but he tried to be too cute by executing a chip over his head instead of rounding him off, and Ishaan got a hand to the ball and diverted it to the opposite direction.
The Race for the Golden Boot Award:
Odafa Okolie (Churchill Brothers) : 16
Ryuji Sueoka (Salgaocar) : 14
Yusif Yakubu (Salgaocar) :10
Ranti Martins (Dempo) : 10
Tolgay Ozbay (East Bengal) : 9
Kayne Vincent(Churchill Brothers) : 9
Anil Kumar (Viva Kerala) :8
Elijah Junior (Chirag) : 8
TheHardTackle’s Team of the Week:
Goalkeeper: Ishaan Debnath (Mumbai FC)
Defenders: Surkumar Singh (Mohun Bagan), Gourmangi Singh (Churchill Brothers), Evans Quao (Mumbai FC)
Midfielders: Izumi Arata (Pune FC), Paresh Shivalkar (Pune FC), Ebi Sukore (Mumbai FC), Gilbert Oliviera (Salgaocar)
Strikers: Edmar Figueira (Pune FC), Ranty Martins (Dempo SC), Muritala Ali (Mohun Bagan)