There were many surprises in I-League Round 11 as champions Dempo SC were thrashed at their own fort by Pune FC while Prayag United Sports Club ended the unbeaten run of East Bengal. The twists and turns in Round 11 have thrown the title race wide open and the new title challengers Pune FC and Prayag United locks horns in Round 12’s match of the week. TheHardTackle takes a look at the matches and also at key tactical battles that could shape the results in the four matches to be played in this round.

ONGC welcomes Shillong Lajong challenge in Delhi

Bottom placed ONGC welcomes Shillong Lajong FC in relegation battle this weekend. ONGC has a good record in Delhi even-though their away form has been awful. ONGC has some vital scalps under their belt in Delhi even if they finds themselves in the bottom of I-League table. Their only win against Dempo and vital draws against Prayag United, Mohun Bagan and Sporting Club were achieved in the capital. Out of their 7 points, 6 were achieved under the home comforts and the remaining point they got in their last outing against relegation threatened Salgaocar SC. Relegation threatened ONGC are aiming for a Top 7 spot according to coach Santhosh Kashyap, and he must be hoping that his wards will shrug off the ‘direct football’ challenge posed by Shillong Lajong. Robin Gurung has been a rock in the  defence and he has provided a solid base along with Goalkeeper Rehnesh TP for the likes of Katsumi Yusa and Jatin Bisht to build their attacks.

Shillong Lajong FC has drawn their last 3 outings and will be looking to take as much points as possible from the relegation contenders. Desmond Blupin’s side has been impressive this season earning points against East Bengal, Prayag United, Pailan Arrows and Mohun Bagan. As their last two away outings indicates this match in all likely-hood might end up in another dismal draw. They key to success for Shillong Lajong FC lies with ONGC’s Katsumi Yusa, if the North Eastern side are able to put brakes on the Japanese player then the chances of securing valuable points are much more. Mimchol Son has been their best defender so far and he will have a tougher task to keep their lynch-pin quiet. Ebi Sukore, Gbeneme Friday and Indian international Sushil Kumar Singh hold the key towards opponent goal in Englishman’s direct approach. It will be an interesting tactical battle between these two sides and the ability of ONGC boys to deal with the direct football will determine the result of this crucial fixture in their relegation fight.

Pailan Arrows face wounded Champions Dempo SC

AIFF development side Pailan Arrows takes on the wounded champions after the champions were drubbed at their own fort-yard a week ago. Brimming with youth and energy Arrows side have become a tough nut to crack under the tutelage of Arthur Papas. Papas’ possession based football has become a hit among the youngsters and they are going to face a tougher challenge in this round as they welcome Armando Colaco’s side whom implements similar philosophy. Arrows has shown tactical flexibility beyond their age and their success without foreign or senior players shows that Indian Football is finally on the right track. Soram Porei Angamba is well shielded by Souvik Ghosh, Deepak Devrani and Milan Singh in a system where playing from back and keeping possession is given more importance. If Alwyn George and Holicharan Narzary finds a way to unlock the Dempo defense then it will be different ball game for the kolkata based side and they will be eagerly waiting to script history against the wounded champions.

Dempo SC on the other hand will be trying to get back on track after the humiliation suffered against Pune FC last week. Champions Dempo SC got their shock of the season in that outing and their weaknesses came to the forefront and it was visible for the whole of India to take notice. Pailan Arrows tactician Arthur Papas might have his tasks cut out as the gaps were identified and now he needs to asks questions in these areas along with his other ambitious plans. For Armando Colaco it’s important to address the holes immediately otherwise it will tarnish his reputation and his teams future lies in the balance as well. Subhashish Roy Choudhary needs to get his confidence after the mauling and he needs to be spot on from the start as the potential questions are mostly aimed at his post. Rohan Ricketts hasn’t showed his magic in I-League yet and he needs to provide good support to the likes of Ryuji Sueoka, Climax Lawrence, Clifford Miranda  and co to steady the Dempo ship again.

Pune FC faces a stiff challenge from Prayag United

New title challengers Pune FC

New title challengers Pune FC

Pune FC are running high on confidence after thrashing champions Dempo SC at their own den. Star striker James Moga is hitting the back of the net very often and is well supported by Jeje Lalpekhula and Subash Singh. Captain Duhou Pierre has been their lynch-pin this season and he is the one dictating the game for Pune FC. Prayag United will have to keep a close check on Dohou Pierre to achieve something from the game. This season Pune FC has risen to the challenge of away games and the game against Dempo saw them playing for a win right from the kickoff. Red Lizards showed true determination and grit to carve out a result in testing conditions. Dohou Pierre and Arata Izumi are the mainstays of Pune Midfield but still this area is considered as the weak link when compared to defense and attack. Pune FC midfield needs to step up and dictate the tempo against the Galacticos to continue their good work.

Prayag United on the other hand comes into this game after breaching the defense of then unbeaten East Bengal. Star striker Ranti Martins has taken his goal-scoring threat from Goa to Kolkata and finds himself on top of the scoring charts in I-League by a healthy margin. He was the one who broke the meanest defense in I-League and with the support arriving in the form of Carlos Hernandez and upcoming sensation Vineeth CK, Pune FC will have a tough task to keep them quiet. Prayag defence led by Indian internationals Gourmangi Singh and Subrata Pal will come under scrutiny against the likes of James Moga and co at Pune. They need to be on their toes to shut the shop against the Pune warriors who were in scintillating form in their last outing. The match of the week has too many tactical sub battles and the teams has to come out on top in many fonts to maintain their title challenge.

East Bengal visits Mumbai with the hope of securing 3 points

Mumbai FC find themselves in 6th spot in I-League and with their hopes sky high. Mumbaikars put the Air India result to bed with a hard fought victory over United Sikkim FC in their last encounter. The strike force of ND Okpara and Yusif Yakubu are a threat to any opposition on their given day and that is their main strength in this edition of I-League. Nicholas Rodriguez has been pulling the strings brilliantly for the Mumbai based side while Justin Stephen and Evans Quao has the responsibility to silence the opposition strike force. Mumbai FC needs to put out their best performance this season while facing the East Bengal side who faced their first defeat of this season in their last outing.

East Bengal has been the team to beat this season as their defense looked like unbreachable till they met Prayag United. The former champions East Bengal will be rejuvenated after their unexpected loss following the melee in Kolkata derby. East Bengal and Churchill Brothers have looked the strongest this season and the kolkata giants needs to get their act quickly to claim the title before it distances from their grasps. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has come off age with mature performances under the bar this season and it looks like the Pailan Arrows and India U-22 stint has done him a world of good. East Bengal’s defense has been their main strength this season, if they can keep the Mumbai FC strike force quiet 3 points will be in the bag for the Red and Golds. Edeh Chidi and Penn Orji are well supported by the Indian contingent at the East Bengal camp and they will be aiming for 3 points in their visit after losing valuable points in previous outings.


ONGC 2 – 1 Shillong Lajong FC

Pailan Arrows 1 – 2 Dempo SC

Pune FC 3 – 2 Prayag United SC

Mumbai FC 0 – 2 East Bengal