What a great weekend it was for East Bengal that was made even sweeter by their rivals’ slip up. With this win over Mohun Bagan, East Bengal became the first Indian club to notch-up 150th triumph in national football league;  another milestone in the history of Indian football. This Red-&-Gold victory together with Salgaocar’s loss means that the Federation Cup winners are now just two points behind the leaders. East Bengal took an early lead through Australian Tolgay Ozbey, who got his first taste of the ovation you get while scoring a goal in a Kolkata derby. After receiving a ball from Mehtab on the right Tolgay cleverly got past a hapless Kingshuk Debnath, then foxed Deepak Mondal with his brilliant footwork  and blasted the ball past Sangram Mukherjee.

Soon after the match then threatened to turn into a boxing arena with tackles flying around and players trying to kick each other. After half time and possibly some stern words from Subhash Bhowmick, the Mariners came back strongly and equalized through India right back Surkumar Singh when his shot took an wicked deflection off Gurwinder and crossed the goal-line. But within six minutes East Bengal restored the lead as Baljit Singh slotted home after a good dummy by Tolgay. Mehtab was again involved in the goal and won another Man of the Match award. With this win East Bengal has got right back in the title hunt and all roads will lead to Goa for what would probably be the title decider on May 19th against Salgaocar. Mohun Bagan remain a disappointing sixth after nearest rivals Chirag United, Pune FC and Indian Arrows failed to capitalize on their loss.

Bend it like Tolly – Tolgay Ozbey’s curling goal foxing three Bagan defenders

Salgaocar blew the title race wide open after slumping to a stunning 0-1 defeat at the hands of lowly Air India. It was a top versus bottom clash but Air India came out trumphant proving how exciting and unpredictable the Indian League can be. Salgaocar were not their usual self from the start and were unable to string passes together and keep possession. Air India closed them down well and didn’t allow Ryuji Sueoka and Yusif Yakubu to manoeuver the ball and conjure any sort of space. They certainly lacked the creativity of Tomba Singh who was out injured. After a dull first half Salgaocar started the second brightly but still couldn’t find the elusive goal thanks to some resolute defending by the Airmen and some brilliant keeping from former East Bengal product Abhijit Ghosh, who was all charged up to help his former side in their title chase.

As time passed by it was becoming increasingly clear that this wasn’t going to be Salgaocar’s day and the fears of the Fatorda faithful came true when Manjit Singh lashed in a dipping shot from just outside the box that beat the outstretched hands of a diving Karanjit Singh with only a couple of minutes to spare. Salgaocar still lead the table but their five point lead has now been cut to two. They need to quickly regroup for the titanic battle against Churchill Brothers next Sunday in a match that could have serious repercussions in the title race. For Santosh Kashyap’s men the win moved them off the bottom; level on points with JCT – although the Millmen have two games in hand. The relegation battle is turning out to be as exciting as the battle for the title.

Dempo blew a golden chance of piling up the pressure on leaders Salgaocar after needlessly throwing away a two goal advantage to settle for a 3-3 draw against Viva Kerala at Fatorda. They were in fact lucky to go home with a point after snatching a late equalizer in stoppage time.  Dempo raced away to a two goal lead inside the first five minutes with Debabrata Roy scoring his first goal for Dempo in the I-League and Ranti Martins beating a hapless Sharath in goal with a brilliant solo effort. But then complacency set in and Dempo lost the plot completely. Subashish Roy Chowdhury made the most glaring blunder dropping an absolutely harmless cross allowing Anil Kumar to tap in. That rattled Dempo and even though they went in at half time with a 2-1 advantage, they never really looked like settling the game.

Viva Kerala made them pay dearly when an N.P Pradeep grounder went past Subashish who was again late to react. Dempo were then shocked after Charles Dzisah gave the Keralites the lead with ten minutes to play after being allowed a free header from a corner. But deep into injury time Ranti Martins saved Dempo the blushes by punting home from close range to give the home team an undeserved point. It was surely two points dropped for Armando Colaco’s boys and he will be ruing the fact that this game could have probably cost him the title. For Viva Kerala this could be one of the most important point of the season. They must have certainly left for home knowing that another ten points from their remaining five games coupled with a win over ONGC in Kerala could assure them safety considering ONGC and Air India have tough fixtures ahead.

JCT took a giant stride towards safety after registering a narrow 1-0 win over Mumbai FC at Ludhiana. Ajay Singh scored the all important goal for the Millmen which moves them to 17 points with two games in hand. Things are certainly brightening up for them after a horrendous season so far. They play ONGC next in Kolhapur and a win there could almost assure them top flight football for another season.

ONGC continued their revival by blanking HAL 4-0 at Kolhapur. Japanese Katsumi Yusa gave them the lead after 15 minutes through a stunning free kick from 22 yards out that rattled the post and went in. Babtunde then doubled the advantage in the 36th minute heading in a Naresh cross form the right. Kailash Patil then made light of N.D Opara’s absence due to a double booking, scoring two goals to complete the thumping win. ONGC though still at the bottom are now closing the gap on their neighbours. They next play JCT at Kolhapur in a must win game for them.  HAL remain on 20 points and are in danger of getting sucked into the relegation battle.

Churchill Brothers blew hot & Cold and huffed & puffed their way to a 2-1 win over Chirag United at Fatorda. Churchill Brothers players played under severe pressure after being given a dressing down by boss Churchill Alemao in front of a stunned crowd in their last game against ONGC. They started the game terribly not even being able to string two to three decent passes together. The shadow of their pressurizing boss loomed large over their shoulders. And things got worse at the half hour mark when India captain Sunil Chhetri blasted in a spectacular bicycle kick after the nervous Churchill defenders failed to clear the ball and allowed it to bounce in the area.

At half time they risked another tongue lashing from their passionate boss. They came out with all guns blazing in the second half but were unable to get past Chika Wali who was absolutely outstanding at the back. But football is indeed a cruel game. Chika who was until that point having a flawless game, miss hit a harmless Raju Yimnan cross and ended up diverting it into his own net on 58 minutes. That was the lucky break Churchill needed. They piled on the pressure and six minutes later a Zakeer Mundampara pile driver crashed into the nylons giving Churchill the lead. Chirag in search of an equalizer threw bodies forward and the move nearly paid off when Sunil Chhetri was through after a brilliant defence splitting ball from Lalkamal Bhowmick. But the India captain hit it across goal and Vinay pulled off a great save to deny Chirag a point. In the end Churchill held on for a win but Churchill Alemao stole the headlines again after rushing onto the pitch at the end of the game and launching an absolute tirade at the referee and his assistants – which was not a welcome sign and should be condemned by the fans and AIFF administrators.

Draw specialists Pune FC and Indian Arrows played out another goal-less stalemates that gave neither side a chance to move up the table. It was another frustrating day at the office for Derrick Pereira who have notched up eight draws already this season.

Star of the Week: Manjit Singh (Air India)

Their backs were against the wall. The threat of relegation loomed large over their face. Whats worse was they were playing table toppers Salgaocar in their own den. But adversities produce champions and Air India certainly found one in Manjit Singh. A stunning shot that had curl, bed dip and power beat Karanjit Singh all ends up and gave Air India 3 vital points that was worth more than gold. For the sheer brilliance and timing of the strike Manjit Singh wins our Star of the Week award.

Goal of the Week:  Sunil Chetri (Chirag United)

No surprise that Sunil Chetri spectacular overhead kick wins him the Goal of the Week award. After a disappointing stint with Kansas City Wizards, Chetri is slowly getting into goal scoring form. On his return to Margao after quitting Dempo last year Sunil gave all his fans in Goa a peach of a goal that even the die hard Churchill fans applauded. Tolgay Ozbey’s crafty goal against Mohun Bagan in the high profile Kolkata Derby also deserves a mention here.

Save of the Week: Jayanta Paul (East Bengal)

Vinay Singh of Churchill Brothers and Abhijit Ghosh of Air India made a couple of stunning saves. But for the sheer pressure the game brings with the enormity of the clash we had to give this award to young Jayanta Paul who pulled off a stunning save in the Kolkata Derby. The fact that Jayanta is actually the reserve goal-keeper for East Bengal and got the chance to play in this match only because of Sandip Nandy’s suspension, makes the 19-years old’s achievement even more commendable. In the 81st minute of the match with East Bengal leading by two goals to one Jayanta pulled off a blinder of a save off a Rakesh Masih shot from just 8 yards out to deny Mohun Bagan a face saving point.

Miss of the Week: Edeh Chidi (Mohun Bagan)

For the second week running the Nigerain wins the award he will not at all cherish. After receiving a great ball from Subair Muritala Ali, Chidi inexplicably failed to keep the ball on target from just six yards out much to the dismay of his team mates and technical director Subhash Bhowmick.

Race for the Golden Boot:

Odafa Okolie (Churchill Brothers) : 18
Ranti Martins (Dempo) : 15
Ryuji Sueoka (Salgaocar) : 14
Tolgay Ozbay (East Bengal) : 13
Kayne Vincent (Churchill Brothers) : 11
Yusif Yakubu (Salgaocar) : 11
Anil Kumar (Viva Kerala) : 11
Jeje Lalpekhlua (Indian Arrows) : 8

TheHardTackle’s Team Of The Week:

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Goalkeeper: Abhijit Ghosh (Air India)

Defenders: Napoleon Singh (Air India), Peter Odafe (ONGC), Omoloza Karim (JCT), Okpara(East Bengal)

Midfielders : Kailash Patil (ONGC), Mehtab Hussain (East Bengal), N.P. Pradeeep (Viva Kerala), Katsumi Yusa (ONGC)

Strikers: Ranti Martins (Dempo), Tolgay Ozbay (East Bengal)