The I-league round nineteenth saw only four games being scheduled this week as there was the small matter of the 115th IFA Shield to deal with as well. The reverse leg tie between Mumbai FC and Dempo, Mohun Bagan and JCTFC along with the mouth watering encounter of Salgaocar vs East Bengal had to be rescheduled to accommodate the IFA Shield in the calendar. While the Mumbai FC vs Dempo and Salgaocar vs East Bengal clashes have been postponed to the 19th of May; JCT’s trip to Kolkata to face the Mariners has been deferred to the 22nd of May.
At Kannur, a resurgent Viva Kerala outfit faced an uphill Churchill Brothers test and they almost came good on their desire to get at least a point from this tie. However, a late second half goal by Boima Karpeh spoiled their party. Clinching all three points from this game Churchill moved to slash the gap between themselves and table toppers Salgaocar by just a solitary point, although they have played a couple of more matches than their Goan rivals. Viva came closest in the first half when Felix unleashed a screamer from the edge of the box that forced Churchill’s substitute ‘keeper Vinay Singh, who replaced the injured Lalit Thapa early in to the game, to produce a superb one handed save to keep the score-line level at the half time whistle. In the second half as well, Vinay saved his team the blushes courtesy some spirited goalkeeping and deservedly walked away with the man of the match award.
In Bangalore, Chirag United seemed on course for a hard fought win only to be denied all three points by an injury time penalty as veteran R.C. Prakash converted from the spot to cancel out Joshimar da Silva Martins 73rd minute opener. After a unproductive first half, Chirag went ahead in the 73rd minute when Brazilian striker Joshimar latched on to a good forward ball from the midfield to beat his marker and slot the ball home. But in the dying moments of the match, Sukhen Dey brought down R.C. Prakash inside the penalty area and Prakash himself got the resulting spot kick converted to give his side an invaluable point.
Late drama in Balewadi saw Pune FC clinch invaluable three points against relegation strugglers ONGC FC by a solitary goal scored by Mondjou Keita. Pune dominated the match right from the word go but the Edmar-Keita forward line wasted quite a few glorious chances and the half time score read 0-0. 10 minutes in to the second half, Pune FC could have taken the lead, but Edmar’s curling free kick was superbly saved by the ONGC custodian for a corner. Then in the 65th minute, ONGC set off for a quick counter attack which saw N.D. Opara through on goal. Pune FC keeper Subrata came out of his box to thwart the Nigerian and in the process brought him down just outside the box. Referee did not hesitate to give the marching orders and Pune were relegated to fight with 10 men for the remaining duration. Just when it seemed like a goalless draw was written all over it, Keita once again turned savior for Derrick Pereira as he latched on to a free ball inside the box and unleashed a screamer into the far end of the goal giving the goalie no chance at all. The referee blew the final whistle right after the goal.
Despite all the action in the other fixtures, the day undeniably belonged to the young Indian Arrows outfit as they came from a goal down to conjure up a memorable 5-2 win over Air India away from home. Jeje Lalpekhlua was the hero for the Arrows outfit scoring four brilliant goals. Okorogor Praise scored a brilliant free kick goal to give the home team an early lead in the 6th minute of the match. But Arrows make a remarkable comeback and Manandeep Singh scored the equalizer in the 10th minute. It was a Jubilant Jeje show there after as the promising striker celebrated his senior national call up scoring four fabulous goals. First he aided Indian Arrows to take the lead in the 16th minute with a immaculate header from Jibon Singh’s cross and followed that with another goal in similar fashion the very next minute to help his side to a 3-1 lead. Jeje completed his hat-trick by finishing off a quick counter attack with just about 15 minutes remaining on the clock. Incidentally this was the first ever hat-trick by an Indian Arrows player in any competition and the second hat-trick, after Viva’s Anil Kumar, by an Indian player in this year’s I-League. Jeje was not finished just yet. Arrows kept up the attacking intensity and Jeje’s hard work got rewarded with another goal five minutes later to help his team to a commanding 5-1 score-line. Just before the final whistle Okorogor Praise got another consolation goal for Air India from the spot to make it 2-5 in the end.
Star of The Week: Jeje Lalpekhlua (Indian Arrows)
Jeje Lalpekhlua scored four fabulous goals to celebrate his call up to the senior national team for the upcoming AFC Challenge Cup qualifuing tournament. He is a vastly improved player now and his aerial ability coupled with lightning pace tore apart Air India’s defense to pieces. His tremendous effort earns him TheHardTackle’s “Star of the Week” nod for the I-League Round-19.
Goal of The Week: Okorogor Praise (Air India)
It is arguably one of the best set piece deliveries one would expect to see in this edition of the league campaign. Air India got a free kick around 25 yards out and the club top-scorer Praise stepped up to unleash a venomous curling delivery over the defense wall which swung in the air just enough to crash in to the back of the net leaving Arrows goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh flabbergasted.
Save of The Week: Somnath Khara (Chirag United)
The young keeper continued his good form and produced a few wonderful saves against HAL SC in Bangalore. The best save of the match came at the brink of the final whistle when he denied R.C. Prakash from close quarters. Prakash timed his run perfectly to get hold of a forward ball from Abdulla Hazma and was through on goal. From a one-on-one position with only the goalkeeper to beat, he placed the ball from inside the D towards Somnath’s left side, but the young custodian was equal to the task and produced a diving acrobatic stop.
Miss of The Week: Junior Elijah (Chirag United)
Around 40 minutes mark, with the score-line tied at 0-0, Chirag got a flag kick and Lalkamal Bhowmick’s looping delivery found Junior unmarked in front of the second post. The ball was at a perfect height for Junior to head in and all that was needed was to give it the direction it required, but he went too hard at the ball and only managed to rattle the woodwork with his powerful, but mistimed, header.
The Race For The Golden Boot:
Odafa Okolie (Churchill Brothers) :17
Ryuji Sueoka (Salgaocar) : 14
Ranti Martins (Dempo) : 11
Kayne Vincent (Churchill Brothers) : 11
Yusif Yakubu (Salgaocar) : 10
Tolgay Ozbay (East bengal) : 9
Anil Kumar (Viva Kerala) : 8
Jeje Lalpekhlua (Indian Arrows): 8
Elijah Junior (Chirag) : 8
TheHardTackle’s Team of The week:
Goalkeeper: Vinay Singh (Churchill Brothers)
Defenders: Denzil Franco (Churchill Brothers), Rohit Chand (HAL SC), Raju Gaekwad (Indian Arrows), Kamal Thapa (ONGC)
Midfielders: M.P. Shakeer (Churchill Brothers), Jibon Singh (Indian Arrows), Lalkamal Bhowmick (Chirag United), Venkatesh (Pune FC)
Strikers: Jeje Lalpekhlua (Indian Arrows), Okorogor Praise (Air India)