In the world of soccer not many teams would like to play their matches away from home or in a neutral venue. In home matches teams get the support of their 12th man and that acts as a catalyst for improving performances drastically. Be it relegation contenders or championship favourites, their home will be a tough place to visit than facing them in other venues. Mumbai based institutional side ONGC is an exception as they relocated to Delhi in an attempt to spread I-League all over the country and are currently playing home away from home in Delhi.
ONGC after shifting their base to Delhi, struggled initially but has shifted gears in recent weeks. After 14 matches they are firmly placed in mid-table with 16 points of which 15 has come from 8 home games. This includes stunning wins against favourites Dempo and East Bengal along with wins over Shillong Lajong and Pailan Arrows, direct rivals for their desired table position. Prayag United had to settle for a point at Delhi, United Sikkim and Sporting Club de Goa also had a smiliar fate. ONGC’s pathetic away form has been covered by their brilliant performances in Delhi. The Oilmen lost all but one match on their travels this season while they have rarely tasted defeat in Delhi. Even ‘home away from home’ has become the fortress for the oilmen.
The story of ONGC is also interwined with the rise, fall and re-rising of Santosh Kashyap and how things can quickly change in the world of football. After two creditable seasons with Air India, Kashyap, who as a player unsuccessfully dreamt for donning the Green & Maroon jersey, got the big job of managing Mohun Bagan. Expectations were high from the Mariners having added superstar Tolgay Ozbey to goal-machine Odafa Okalie in frontline. As it has become customary for Mohun Bagan in recent seasons, Kashyap became an eventual prey to the lack of footballing acumen of club officials. Managing Mohun Bagan’s poorly balanced team was always going to be a tough job and Kashyap’s inexperience of managing a big club added to his woes. A devastating Federation Cup campaign followed twin defeats in opening two I-League matches. The former AI coach was made scapegoat and sacked. Mohun Bagan’s form has not improved since he was sent packing – a proof that he was not the one to be blamed. Barely months after being dumped by Mohun Bagan, Kashyap is taking ONGC to new heights while Bagan themselves stare at ignominy and an uncertain future. The irony.
Santhosh Kashyap’s old school approach has been successful in the ONGC camp. His strict style coupled with aggression on the touchline brings the best out of ONGC players. The fear of getting a mouthful from the manager is indeed an inspiration to give your best to avoid the embarrassment. It’s not just about his aggression, the players would like to gave their all for a man who gives everything for his team. Last season Air India played well under him in I-League despite not getting paid for almost 3 months. This season ONGC players know that they won’t be in I-League next season but still they are putting in their best efforts. An inspirational and motivational coach can bring the best out of the players even in adverse situations and Santhosh Kashyap is doing an admirable job.
Performances of foreign players are key in I-League. Where teams like Dempo and Salgaocar have found it difficult ONGC has hit the jackpot. Japanese playmaker Yutsumi Kasa has been one of the best players in I-League this season and has been duly assisted by Eric Brown. The foreign duo has not only produced scintillating performances but also they were able to get the best out of their comrades. When a team posses the game changers like this trio – it’s natural that the coach builds the team around them, and as the time goes on the support cast steps up to take them to the next level and it is happening with ONGC currently. The performances of Rehenesh TP, Sandeep Sanga, Robin Gurung, Jatin Bisht and Sachin Gawas has provided a strong base for the ONGC men apart from their foreign brilliance.
When title contenders East Bengal squared off against ONGC, not many would have predicted an upset. The match started according to the expectations as East Bengal gained a minor upper-hand in early exchanges as ONGC took time adjust with the absence of Eric Brown due to suspension. East Bengal’s profligacy infront of goal has been a talking point this season and Robin Singh and Edeh Chidi competed to miss chances one after the other. Robin, on his return to native Delhi was the major culprit as he kept on missing the simplest of chances that even East Bengal supporters were left thinking of their other striker Manandeep Singh. East Bengal’s inability to score helped ONGC grow in confidence as they slowly started gaining momentum with Yusa dominating opponent’s stellar midfield. As the match neared towards a stalemate, the Japanese stepped up to demonstrate how to finish to the woeful Red and Gold brigade. ONGC secured 3 more points at Delhi and indeed they give another dent to the title aspirations of East Bengal.
Sporting Clube De Goa and Shillong Lajong shared the spoils after a stalemate in Goa in I-League. If Shillong Lajong were the better team in first half Sporting took the honors in second half though without disturbing the net and the scorers. Chances were few and far between in an otherwise dull game. Both teams were wasteful in front of the goal with Friday, Sugushita, Sushil and Victorino being the main culprits.
Air India started brightly against Salgaocar and took the lead inside 5 minutes. But Salgaocar rallied later on to equalize and they ended up as the better team in the latter stages of the game. As the game neared end Salgaocar grew in confidence but they couldn’t break the deadlock and had to settle for a draw. This point takes the overall tally of Air India to 14 while Salgaocar has 12 in I-League.
Three second half goals within the space of 5 minutes helped Churchill Brothers to a 3 point gap at the top of the I-league table. East Bengal lost to ONGC while Pune FC succumbed to Prayag United in an almost perfect round for Churchill Brothers. First half didn’t produce any goals while Pailan Arrows took an early lead in the second half to make the game more interesting. Churchill brothers responded in style via two goals from striker Henry Antchouet while the final nail was planted by Israil Gurung. Churchill has tallied 31 points so far while Pailan Arrows are stuck at 14 in the last 5 rounds.
Pune FC’s mesmerizing run was ended in this round of I-League as Prayag United got the better of them by two goals. Pune FC continued from where they stopped in last game as Dohou Pierre pulled the strings really well for the inform team and James Moga looked all set for opening the scoring. Prayag resisted the storm and took their chances to notch up an impressive win. Ranti Martins continued his goal-scoring form once again and it settled the scores in this encounter after Lalkamal Bhowmick gave them the lead. That means Pune FC’s 6 games winning run came to an end at Kolkata and they are finding themselves 3 points behind I-League leaders.
Yusif Yakubu opened and closed the scoring as Mumbai FC equalized in injury time as United Sikkim once again conceded a late goal. Yakubu’s early opener was cancelled out by N Bhutia and then Linekar Machado put them infront within 20 minutes. United Sikkim were the better side throughout but their inexperience at top flight cost them crucial points once again. They couldn’t find another goal to settle the scores while experienced pro. Yusif Yakubu was at the right place at the right time to find a late equalizer which saved the Mumbaikars from blushes. It remains to be seen whether the north eastern sides inability to hold on to the leads will hurt them badly or not.