I League Round 20 – East Bengal and Mohun Bagan failed to inspire with a goal less draw at the Salt Lake stadium, while Salgaocar trounced Shillong Lajong 2-0. Dempo lost to Air India 2-1, being unable to capitalize on the slip up by Churchill Brothers, who drew against Prayag 2-2.

East Bengal v Mohun Bagan

The Kolkata Derby was significant for East Bengal and Mohun Bagan out of different reasons. While the former are in the race for the title, Bagan find themselves struggling to avoid relegation – having been docked points for not turning up in the second half, the last time the two teams encountered each other. However, the much hyped match ended in a dull draw with both the teams showing restrain in their approach.

League Standings

Mohun Bagan looked the better side in the first 30 mins as Odafa-   hitting the post with a free kick and Tolgay, troubled the East-Bengal defense. After the break it was a midfield battle, with both teams taking a cautious approach. Referring, was yet again the talking point of the derby, as the Mariners were livid at not being awarded the penalty, after the referee failed to spot a Uga Okpara handball.

Despite the draw, East-Bengal continue to lead the table thanks to the other title contenders dropping points. East Bengal however,  have played two more matches than Churchill Brothers and Pune FC  while one more match than Dempo.

 A win in the derby could have taken the Red & Golds closer to the title but Trevor Morgan took a cautious approach, going into the derby. The side lacked creativity in the final third and the manger failed to come up with a Plan B, being unable to force themselves on the opposition. While Chidi Edeh and Penn Orji  hardly complemented one another, Robin Singh and Manandeep Singh failed to do justice to their talents. With AFC cup coming up and key players from the club joining the national camp,going forward it is only going to get tough for East-Bengal. Realistically, their chances of lifting the I-League seems very remote.

Bagan, despite being at the bottom, would have fancied a win. A win in the derby would have  not just have given them 2 more points but also the confidence to save relegation. Even last season, Bagan finished 4th but they edged the rivals in the derby encounters. With Salgaocar and Sporting Club de Goa winning last few of their matches, seemingly the relegation battle will be restricted between Lajong, United Sikkim and Air-India. Bagan are 6 points behind United Sikkim and 13 behind Lajong but they have 5 games in hand.

The selection of foreign players has been a dilemma for Bencherifa –  he can only play two of Tolgay, Odafa and Jacobs,  assuming that Anyichie who was impressive in the derby, will not start. The lack of quality Indian players hasn’t helped Bencherifa’ s cause either. Manish Bhargav was impressive playing upfront with Odafa and Tolgay in a 4-3-3 formation and the youngster will have a key role to play in Bagan’s revival.  If  Mohun Bagan  are to avoid the axe, they will have to start winning matches against the big teams.

Salgaocar v Shillong Lajon

Salgaocar trounced Shillong Lajong 2-0 , taking a huge step in avoiding the relegation. In a match that was a potential 6 pointer, new foreign recruits of Salgaocar impressed once again. Josimar headed in John Wilkinson’s cross on 20th minute to give Greens a lead and Randeep Singh scored from a wonderful free-kick to double their lead in the 40th minute. New Japanese recruits Taisuke Matsugae and Sho Kamimura were impressive but failed to convert the chances. With this win, David Booth and his side moved towards safety while the problems have compounded for Lajong.

Mumbai FC v Pune FC

The third match of the day pipped 6th placed Mumbai FC against 5th placed Pune FC in Maharashtra Derby. Mumbai came into the match on a high  while Pune FC had suffered a dip in their form. The first half was played at a high tempo and both sides had clear opportunities but the score remained 0-0 at half time. Controversy broke out close to the half-time as Pune FC coach  Derrick Pereira and Mumbai FC player Abhishek Yadav had a war of words. James Moga was the difference between the teams in the second half as he first headed in a Paite’s cross in the 56 th minute to give his side a lead and then doubled it up in the 71st minute. Arata Izumi completed the proceedings with a wonderful goal from outside the box to make it 3-0 in the 84th minute.

Team Of The Round

Sporting Clube de Goa  v Pailan Arrows

Day 2 began with Sporting club de Goa taking on Pailan Arrows and it was the Flaming Oranje who emerged out winners thanks to goals from Ogba Kalu and Victorino Fernandes. After a barren first-half , where both sides had opportunities to score, it was Sporting who seized the initiative in the second half. Dawson Fernandes replaced a lackluster Juanfri and it was his assist that set up Kalu for the opener in the 63rd minute.. As Arrows pressed hard for the equalizer, Victorino Fernandes took advantage of spaces in Arrows defense and unleashed a pile-driver from 25 yards out that beat the Arrows goalkeeper and put the Arrows fightback to rest. With this win Sporting took another step towards saving relegation.

United Sikkim v  ONGC

In Sikkim it was heartbreak for the home side as they conceded a goal in the 90th minute after having dominated the entire game. The game marked the 8th occasion where the Snow Lions conceded points in the dying moments. New Recruit striker Pablo Rodriquez Aracil and midfielder Steve Hayes were impressive with Hayes earning the man-of-match award on his debut. For ONGC it was Katsumi Yusa – Eric Brown combination that delivered once with Yusa setting up Brown for the only goal of the match. After the loss United Sikkim are firmly staring at relegation while ONGC sit pretty at 7th position.

Churchill Brothers v Prayag United

Churchill Brothers squandered the lead twice to allow Prayag a 2-2 draw in a match where Lalkamal Bhormick put in another  impressive display and served out another timely reminder to national team coach Wim Koevermans. Akram Moghrabi scored the opener for Churchill after confusion in the Prayag box while Ranti Martins equalized on stroke of the half time after Bhowmick had combined well with Dhanachandra Singh. Beto restored the lead for the home side from the spot after Moghrabi was brought down but 3 minutes later Mohammed Rafique restored the parity. It was clear that Churchill were missing the influential Bilal in their defense and will need to sort out their back-four to remain in the title hunt.

Air India v Dempo SC

Nothing seems to be going right for defending champions Dempo at the moment as they failed to capitalize on slip-ups by Churchill and  East-Bengal and went down 2-1 to Air-India at Pune. Dempo started without any recognized striker once again and found it tough to break a stubborn Air-India defense. A high tempo first half though remained goal-less. Prakash Thorat scored the opener just after the break while Henry Ezeh scored off a stunning volley to make it 2-0 for the airmen. Dempo tried hard with Armando Colaco bringing on Koko and Romeo but it was too late. John Menyongar did score in the 84th minute and there were several close opportunities as well but it was curtains for the defending champions who now seem out of the title reckoning.