I-league has been ever more competitive this year with quite a few teams raring to go and announce themselves as a serious title contender. Whereas some teams are fighting just to stay afloat, some teams are aiming for a top half finish. Every team mostly has its future in its own hands, largely hinging on their performance and attitude on the pitch. But it also depends on some other factors- like the referee officiating the match. If the man in the middle is not up to the mark, the teams in the middle may end up losing crucial match points, which in turn dent the confidence of the players and the fans. It all collates to harm the rapport of the league as a whole.
The problem is not something, which is alien to Indian football or I-League. But with the level of the league rising week in week out, the standard of refereeing is not able to match the expectations of the players, the club officials and most importantly, the fans. In the latest round saw two such incidents which led to agonizing groans from most of the fans watching them.
The first one was the controversial sending off of the East Bengal forward Manandeep Singh against Pailan Arrows in Kalyani. The incident took place after Pranoy Halder elbowed the lad from Hisar, which led to Manandeep pushing Halder away. Referee saw the incident closely, but only managed to send off Manandeep, which led to abuses being hurled at the man holding the whistle from the furious Lal Holud fans in the stands. Although East Bengal managed to weather the storm of some good Pailan Arrows football in the last quarter of the match, the decision was not something the AIFF would be proud of. East Bengal rallied to the win the match courtesy goals from Chidi Edeh and Ralte and now sit at the summit of the table, having played two more games than second placed Churchill Brothers.
The second incident saw Mumbai FC players wasting the time by faking injuries at the end. Dempo Sc had made some shrewd substitutions to turn the match on its head and scoring two goals. Koko Sakibu and Peter Carvalho had hit the back of the net before the Mumbai FC players started the wasting time by refusing to leave the pitch when treated. Although this adds to the injury time, but the anti football tactics should have been dealt with some more presence by the ref in the first place. Dempo players’ momentum was halted intentionally by the yellow brigade in Mapusa in the dying moments of the game. Earlier Mumbai FC had done really well to garner a two goal lead. The match ended with both the teams sharing points, but the referee should have taken some appropriate action against quite apparent time wasting tactics which could eventually cost Dempo the title this season.
The other match at Duler Stadium in Mapusa saw a spirited Sporting Club side surprise the more fancied Churchill Brothers side by clinching all three points in an all Goan affair. Rowan Pereira scored in the last few minutes to give the Flaming Orange the lead and his team held on to register their fifth win of the season. Churchill is still placed at the second position with thirty eight points in their kitty. Captain Ravanan was sent off after clocking forty nine minutes in the match. With the departure of Bilal, the side has been struggling to keep a clean sheet. Testing times for the Churchill management ahead.
The second game on Friday saw Mohun Bagan annihilate ONGC at the Municipal Stadium in Kalyani. Registering their first win since their ‘comeback’ in the league, Mohun Bagan moved to 5 points in the table. Aussie striker Tolgay opened the scoring with India international Jewel Raja doubling the money in the second half. Captain Odafa scored the third to complete the rout. The team from Mumbai did score a consolation goal but it was too late in the day. It was a return to forget for Santosh Kashyap at his old employers.
Early kickoff on Saturday saw Prayag United lock horns against hapless Air India at the Balewadi Stadium. The star of the match was Vineeth CK, who celebrated his call up for the Indian Team with a superb hat-trick. The Kerala lad hit the back of the net thrice inside eleven minutes to put the match to bed inside the first half itself. Ranti Martins had opened the flood gates for the Purple Brigade at the half hour mark. Prayag now move to fourth spot, edging Pune FC on the goal difference. Air India on the other hand added a loss to the string of draws to move closer to the drop zone.
The all North Eastern affair at the JLN stadium in Shillong saw the home team end their dismal run of form at home as new recruit Taisuke sent the crowd into delirium scoring in the last minute to clinch all three points. Shillong Lajong now sit at the tenth place, inflating a comfortable seven point gap between themselves and the relegation zone. Earlier Linekar had got the visting side from Sikkim all set for a win, but Lalhimtthara restored parity in the eighty first minute to set things rolling for the home side. The comeback win boost the confidence of the players after the change in the management at the club.
Saturday evening saw Pune FC gear up for Salgaocar challenge. Derrick Pereira’s side has lost its way from last couple of rounds and this round was no exception too as they were humbled at home by a Salgaocar side, which didn’t need a second invitation to attack a side which was struggling and nervous. The scrappy affair saw Salgaocar arriving to the party early and quickly making the most of it. Striker Francis Fernandes scored a brace within the first half to virtually seal all three points for the Vasco side. Vital win takes the goan side to eleventh in the table with four wins now and safely away from relegation zone.