Salgaocar Sports Club have officially blown away the chance of winning their first title in 12 years after slumping to yet another loss – this time to Mumbai FC in their own den at Fatorda. Salgaocar have wilted under the onslaught of pressure from their chasing rivals and have been unable to set the pace at the top loosing three of their last four games. Friday’s defeat to Mumbai FC now means that the destiny of the league is no longer in their hands. If Dempo or East Bengal wins their remaining five games they will be crowned champions. Karim Bencherifa for all his years in Indian football must be feeling like a choker. He came close to winning the league with Churchill Brothers and Mohun Bagan, but choked at the last hurdle and now looks to have choked again with Salgaocar. 30 minutes into the game and Salgaocar already had their backs to the wall. Mumbai FC pumped in two goals from the boots of young Dane Pereira and veteran Noel Wilson to stun the Fatorda crowd.
Yakubu pulled one back for the home side in the 68th minute but local boy Nicholas Rodrigues restored Mumbai’s two goal advantage in the 73rd minute. A two goal deficit was too much for Salgaocar to overcome in last 15 minutes and although Milagres Gonsalves gave them a glimmer of hope with a goal in stoppage time the verdict was already sealed. Salgaocar now have to win their remaining matches and hope East Bengal and Dempo drop at least two points in their final run-in. All hope is not lost yet for Salgaocar but with games against Mohun Bagan away, Indian Arrows away, East Bengal at home and JCT away on the final day, things look arduous for them from here on.
Subrata Bhattacharya (Jr) must be pulling his hair off right now thinking that had his team displayed the same grit and determination earlier in the season his team would have been mid table by now. The Oilmen’s remarkable fight for survival continued after coming from behind twice to hold Chirag United 2-2 at Kolhapur. They are unbeaten in 5 games now and are looking in pole position to avoid the drop. Sunil Chhetri coolly converted a spot kick to give them a 1-0 lead going into the lemon break. But ONGC came from the dead again as they have done brilliantly in the past 5 games. N.D. Opara restored parity for the Oilmen in the 55th minute but just when it seemed they would go for the winner they got caught out on the break with Sunil Chetri putting the visitors into the lead with 15 minutes to go. But Subrata’s boys sent the home fans into raptures when N.D. Opara scored yet again in stoppage time from the spot. The draw means ONGC stay a point above the relegation zone and a point behind Indian Arrows. Two wins in their final two games could see them safe as HAL play three of the top 4 sides in their remaining games and are expected to drop points. Chirag United achieved an incredible 12th draw of the season.
Indian Arrows’ free-fall continued with yet another loss; this time to Viva Kerala at Gurgaon. The India juniors have not won in four games losing three out of them. They have no threat of relegation but their indifferent form is putting a spoke in the wheel of fortune for the other relegation threatened teams. Felix Chimaokwu scored the all important goal for Viva Kerala inching them closer to safety. The Indian Arrows got games against Salgaocar at home and Mohun Bagan and Mumbai FC away, and coming up with no points from these fixtures looks more or less a certainty going by their current run of poor form. If that happens there is every chance of them finishing in the bottom two which means relegation for the team standing 12th. One of JCT, ONGC, Air India, Viva Kerala and HAL could end up being the sacrificial lamb if the Arrows finish in the bottom two. Viva could almost guarantee themselves safety with a win against ONGC at Kannur in their next game.
Mohun Bagan won for the first time in five games scoring an impressive 2-0 win over relegation contenders Air India. Former Mahindra United striker Muritala Ali scored a brace for The Mariners. Chidi Edeh had a hand in both goals and was Bagan’s best player on the pitch. Air India’s luck seems to have run out finally. Their two remaining games are against JCT at home and Dempo away. Even two wins in their final two games might not be enough for Santosh Kashyap’s boys to avoid relegation.
In the final game of the round, JCT scored a crucial 2-1 win over Pune FC that gives them a massive boost for survival. At one point, the Millmen were at the bottom of the pile but now have a chance of finishing mid table if they win their remaining four games. Ajay Singh scored a brace for the Punjabi’s while Keita Mandjou scored the lone goal for Pune FC.
Star of the Week : Ajay Singh (JCT)
Little known Ajay Singh was the toast of Ludhiana coming up with both the goals to seal JCT’s 2-1 victory over Pune FC – which saw them move up to 10th in the table. Ajay’s first goal was a cool finish straight into the top corner past India goalie Subrata Paul while his second was a neat header off a Maninder Singh cross.
Miss of the Week : Manjit Singh (Air India)
In the first half Manjit Singh missed a golden opportunity to put Air India ahead after he failed to tap in an Okorogor Praise shot. That miss proved costly as Bagan played with greater venom in the second half and stole the game away from the Airmen. Had Air India taken the lead then, things could have been different and they could have even come away with all three points.
Goal of the Week : Nicholus Rodrigues ( Mumbai FC)
It was a brilliant individual goal by the talented Mumbai FC winger. In the 69th minute of the match Nicholas Rodrigues, with a sudden burst of pace, dribbled past a couple of Salgaocar defenders and his snap shot from inside the box proved too good for Karanjit.
Save of the Week : Naveen Kumar (JCT FC)
If JCT manages to stay at the top tier football next season, then these three points earned in the game against Pune FC would surely prove to be a deciding factor. And much of the credit for notching up this 2-1 win goes to their young custodian Naveen Kumar – who kept his side in the hunt for all three points with the help of some inspirational saves from under the woodwork. The most notable of his saves came around the hour mark with his team narrowly hanging on to a 1-0 lead – when his acrobatic diving save off a powerful right-footer by Pune FC’s attacking midfielder Lester Fernandes, despite being wrong-footed initially, ensured JCT finishes the game with three vital points in their kitty.
Race for the Golden Boot:
Odafa Okolie (Churchill Brothers): 19
Ranti Martins (Dempo): 18
Ryuji Sueoka (Salgaocar) : 15
Tolgay Ozbay (East Bengal) : 13
Yusif Yakubu (Salgaocar) : 13
Kayne Vincent (Churchill Brothers) : 11
Anil Kumar (Viva Kerala) : 11
Mandjou Keita (Pune FC) : 10
Jeje Lalpekhlua (Indian Arrows) : 9
The HardTackle’s Team Of The Week:
Strikers : Chetri (Chirag), Muritala (Mohun Bagan), Ajay Singh (JCT)
Midfielders : Dane Pereira (Mumbai FC), Chidi Edeh (Mohun Bagan), N.D. Opara (ONGC)
Defenders : Charles Dzisah (Viva Kerala), Anwar (Mohun Bagan), Maninder Singh (JCT), Omolajah Karim (JCT)
Goalkeeper : Sharath (Viva Kerala)