Salgaocar Sports Club, Goa, maintained their top-of-the-table position in the league standings with a solitary-goal away win against Pune FC, to register their 14th win in 18 matches so far. Salgaocar started the game in attacking fashion and created a number of goal scoring chances, but failed to convert any of those. Then gradually their steam fizzled out, and Pune FC looked threatening in the later part of the first half. However Karim Bencharifa’s men came out with a determined mindset in the second half, and veteran Ghanaian Yusif Yakubu scored the all important goal in the 65th minute of the match, much to the relief of their supporters. This was Derrick Perreira mentored side’s seventh loss of the campaign, and they are currently swagging at a dismal eighth position, with 22 points in their kitty.

Kingfisher East Bengal kept up the pressure on table toppers Salgaocar, as they breezed past relegation strugglers Air India in their Round-20 I-League assignment. The Red-&-Gold brigade’s star striker Tolgay Ozbey scored a fabulous hat-trick after stalemate prevailed over the first 45 minutes, to put Trevor James Morgan’s side back on track in the title hunt. Air India defense played tooth-and-nails to restrict East Bengal’s star-studded forward line in the first half, but the floodgates opened up in the  68th minute, when Tolgay’s brilliant header off Ravinder Singh’s cross from the left wing found the back of the net much to the delight of the visiting East Bengal supporters. The next twenty minutes witnessed a Red-&-Gold attacking carnage, as Tolgay grabbed his first I-League hat-trick to take his goal tally to 12 in his debut season. East Bengal now have 38 points from 18 matches, 5 points behind the table toppers.

Back in the title chase

Dempo SC finds themselves a point further down the order after seeing off Chirag United’s challenge in an exciting 4-2 away win. Nigerian striker Ranti Martins grabbed a brace, while Beto and Peter Carvalho scored the other two goals for the Goan Whites. Shankar Oraon scored the first goal for Chirag to make it 2-1 in the 41st minute but Dempo restored their 2 goal lead at the stroke of the half time whistle, to go to the break with a comfortable 3-1 lead. Sunil Chhteri revived Chirag’s hope as they reduced the deficit to 3-2 in the 72nd minute, but Ranty completed his brace 3 minutes later to cap off a 4-2 win. Suffering their fifth loss of the season, Chirag United finds themselves at a disappointing seventh spot.

IFA Shield champions Churchill Brothers lost further ground in their title aspiration, as a spirited ONGC FC outfit held the former champions to a 3-3 draw at PJN Stadium, Margaon. Churchill took the lead thrice in the match only to see ONGC restore parity on each occasion. Australian striker Boimahh Karpeh drew the first blood for the Goan giants in the 20th minute of the match; however, ONGC’s star striker Badmus Babatunde made it one all just after the breather. Bineesh Balan’s 50th minute strike was canceled out by N.D. Opara’s spectacular long range scorcher in the 66th minute. Desperate for all three points, Churchill went all out in attack and their goal-machine Odafa Okolie earned them 3-2 lead in the 82nd minute, only to see man of the match Babatunde bring things back on level for ONGC with a powerful volley to earn a well-deserved point for his side. The result is a big dent on Churchill’s title ambitions. By dropping two vital points, their second position in the league standing is now at stake, as East Bengal closed the gap to only 2 points with a couple of games in hand.

At the end of the twentieth round, it appears that the title chase in all probability will be a four way fight between Salgaocar, East Bengal, Dempo and Churchill. With a number of big matches yet to be played, it could well boil down to the wire, as the virtual six pointers like Salgaocar vs East Bengal, East Bengal vs Dempo, Dempo vs Churchill and Churchill vs Salgaocar would eventually decide the final outcome.

Elsewhere in Bangalore, Indian Arrows registered an empathetic 4-0 win over HAL SC with a goal each coming from the awesome-foursome – Jeje Lalpekhlua, Jewel Raja Sheikh, Shilton D’Silva and Malswamfela. This was their fifth win of the campaign, which saw them leap-frog HAL SC to acquire the ninth position with 22 points. HAL drops down to tenth, a further 2 points behind.

Mohun Bagan’s stuttering campaign continues, as they were held to a goal-less draw at Kohlapur by Khalid Jamil’s Mumbai FC. Subhash Bhowmick must be lamenting the missed chances, as they failed to convert a dominating display into three points. The Green-&-Maroon strikers were guilty of squandering golden opportunities one after another, which also saw them striking the woodwork on a couple of occasions. With another crucial point, Mumbai FC consolidated their fifth position in the standing – two points ahead of the Mariners with a game in hand. Mohun Bagan have collected 26 points from 19 matches so far in a rather indifferent season.

Viva Kerala revived their survival hope as they thrash JCT FC 4-1 to move up to the 11th position a couple of points behind HAL. Sajesh P drew the first blood for the Kerala side, before Karma T doubled their lead just after the lemon break. JCT pulled one back through Ajay Singh in the 67th minute, but Viva’s in-form striker Anil Kumar scored a brace in quick succession to douse off JCT’s fight-back and ensured a sweet revenge of their away loss at Ludhiana earlier in the season. This was  the inaugural I-League Champion JCT’s fourth consecutive loss, and the relegation threat is looming large on them. It is worthy to mention here that JCT is one of the two clubs, the other being East Bengal,who have participated in all national football leagues since its inception without ever being relegated.


Star of the Week: Tolgay Ozbey (East Bengal)

“Cometh the hour, cometh the man” – Tolgay Ozbey is the man of the moment, as the magician from the land of down under ran riot at the Air India defense, notching up a spectacular hat-trick in the process. His brilliant off-the-ball movement and sheer poacher’s instinct were on display, as he beat the AI goalie with an accurate low header off Ravinder Singh’s cross to draw the first blood for East Bengal. His second goal was even better, as Tolgay dodged off his marker Santosh Koli inside the six yards box and tapped the ball inside the goal-line to finish off a nice attacking move originated from the midfield by Mehtab Hussain. He then put the final nail on the coffin with a minute to go for the final whistle , when a teasing cross of Mehtab was flicked on to the goal with the help of a magical header by the Australian talisman.

The Australian magician

In the end it was an easy decision for the jury to announce the man of the match after witnessing such a sublime performance. It can be predicted beyond any doubt that the Red-&-Gold section of Yuvabharati Krirangan’s gallery will be reverberating with the chants of “Tolgayyyyyy, Tolgay” when East Bengal will face-off against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in the all-important Kolkata Derby in next round. Let’s do it one more time – “Tolgayyyyy, Tolgay”.


Goal of the Week: Badmus Babatunde (ONGC FC)

The star status Badmus Babatunde enjoys at ONGC FC is no less than that of Odafa Okolie’s at Churchill. The striker once again proved why he is so dearly admired by the coach Subrata Bhattacharya (Jr), as he grabbed a vital brace to earn a crucial point for his side. His second goal was a no less than spectacular, as he beautifully controlled a long ball from defender Sandeep Sanga on his chest, foxed Churchill’s experienced defender Robert Lalthalma with an inside dodge and dispatched the ball in to the back of the net with a powerful drive. Vinay Singh, the Churchill Brothers’ goalie had no other alternative but to helplessly watch the ball going past the goal-line.


Save of the Week: Karanjit Singh (Salgaocar)

Around the 25th minute mark Pune FC got a great chance to take the lead. Venkatesh exchanged a few passes with Asim Hasan in the midfield before the later chipped the ball forward to an unmarked Arata Izumi inside the Salgaocar box. Arata controlled the ball with his right foot with his back on goal, and then went clear of his marker with a swift turn and a burst of acceleration. The Japanese midfielder was through on goal and unleashed a right footer towards the far post from just 8 yards out. However, Karanjit was equal to the task, as he managed to divert the ball with his outstretched palm to make a spontaneous reflex save from an one-on-one position with Arata.


Miss of the Week: Edeh Chidi (Mohun Bagan)

After quarter of an hour’s play Mohun Bagan got a golden opportunity to break the dead-lock when Gouranga Dutta laid in a perfect cross at a comfortable height for the Green-&-Maroon striker Edeh Chidi position from the right of the midfield. Chidi was completely unmarked inside the box and it was tougher to miss the target from that position. But Chidi had surely left his scoring boots in Kolkata, as he inexplicably directed his header wide and over.


The Race For The Golden Boot:

Odafa Okolie (Churchill Brothers) :18
Ryuji Sueoka (Salgaocar) : 14
Ranti Martins (Dempo) : 13
Tolgay Ozbay (East bengal) : 12
Kayne Vincent (Churchill Brothers) : 11
Yusif Yakubu (Salgaocar) : 11
Anil Kumar (Viva Kerala) : 10
Jeje Lalpekhlua (Indian Arrows) : 8


TheHardTackle’s Team of the Week:


Formation:
4-3-3

Goalkeeper: Sangram Mukherjee (Mohun Bagan)

Defenders: Naoba Singh (East Bengal), Eric Bowie (Air India), Raju Gaekwad (Indian Arrows), Evans Quao (Mumbai FC)

Midfielders: Peter Carvalho (Dempo SC), Mehtab Hussain (East Bengal), Bineesh Balan (Churchill Brothers)

Strikers: Tolgay Ozbey (East Bengal), Badmus Babatunde (ONGC FC), Ranty Martins (Dempo SC)