The Purple Brigade- An Average Season

Prayag United, at the start of the season, was tipped to do well this season, after taking aboard some of the biggest signings of the transfer season. The owners splurged in the Indian market to rope in some of the influential players who had done well in the previous season. But as it turned out, Prayag United had an average season which saw the purple brigade finish fourth in the league table. They won their maiden IFA shield title, which was a redeemer at the end.

It was quite imminent at the start of the season that the newly put together team was struggling to gel together. The Kolkata based club was disappointing at the start of the season in Federation Cup, which saw the big spenders knocked out from the group stages, after a single win. A inconsistent start to the I-league and a disheartening loss to Shillong Lajong at home, witnessed head coach Sanjay Sen’s sacking by the Prayag United officials. The scene was set for another Dutch coach in India, Eelco Schattorie. Over the course of the season, coach Eelco has seen tremendous potential in the current squad, and has committed himself to service the Kolkata side, even after the club failed to secure any major achievement this season, apart from winning the IFA shield.

At the start of the season, there were a lot of raised eyebrows around the new strike paring which the Purple brigade flaunted. After former Dempo hitman Ranti Martins was signed in one of the biggest coups in Indian football, Prayag United announced that they had secured the signature of former Costa Rica international Carlos Hernandez. But as the season went by, the striker partnership did not flourish and wasn’t impactful as it was tipped by many pundits. Ranti went on and scored a bagful of goals as usual, clinching his third consecutive top scorer award, but it was Carlos who struggled to settle in.

Prayag United’s midfield was one of the key highlights throughout the season. Players like Lalkamal Bhowmick, Vineeth CK, Snehashish, Tapan Maity and Tulunga took their chances and dished out some exemplary performances in middle of the park. Both Vineeth CK and Lalkamal were duly rewarded with call ups to the national squad. Vineeth CK scored seven goals this season along with numerous assists and was the leading Indian scorer. Along with Lalkamal, both were the rising stars in the Prayag squad this season, and coach Eelco would be would be pinning a lot of plans around these players next season.

First IFA Shield: Prayag United rode on a solitary strike from Ranti in the second half to bag their first shield, avenging their defeat to the same opponents in last year, East Bengal. This was the second major trophy in the Prayag cabinet, since winning the Durand Cup in 2010. The victory gave a boost to the  diminishing hopes of finishing the season without any silverware.

Best Player:

Ranti ‘Golden Boot’ Martins

The Nigerian hit man claims yet another top scorer award, even though his team did not do rise up to the expectations. The number nine did not disappoint the Prayag faithful by scoring twenty three goals this season, accounting for almost forty two percent of Prayag goals this season. It would be scary to imagine Prayag United’s season without the high profile recruit from Dempo.

Most Disappointing Player:

India international Gouramangi Singh had joined the Prayag bandwagon in hope to add depth to the defence which was led by Bello Rasaq. As Arnab Mondal left, a lot was expected from the tall centre back, but he did not rise to the occasion. He had a topsy turvy season marred with a lot of defensive mistakes.( Prayag United conceded 35 goals in I-League). The supporters would feel that the Manipuri didn’t do justice to his price tag or reputation justice.

Another close contender was Lester Fernandes, who was signed from Pune FC. In a first, Prayag United paid transfer fee to get his signature but his performances fizzled out in the end.

Outstanding Players:

Prayag United playing XI

After winning the league and the golden boot for Dempo, Ranti Martins’ high profile move to Prayag United was speculated with a dip in form, and also a possible unhappy stay in Kolkata. But Ranti silenced his critics with another power packed season, winning back to back golden boot awards. It will certainly be a crime if Vineeth CK is not given a honourable mention in the outstanding players list. After the relegation of Chirag United Kerala, Vineeth and Asif K were shrewdly signed and the Kerala lad put in highly impressive performances and made the most of the “off the bench” performances. He soon was a regular in the starting line up and made the left wing his own.

Another player who had more than an average season with the Purple brigade was captain Lalkamal Bhowmick who was slotted in central midfield after a stable 2011/12 season. The Kolkata lad showcased gritty performances week-in week-out to lead his team to a fourth finish this season.

Other players such as old warhorse Deepak Mondal also had a good season playing from his usual right back position; Kiwi Kayne Vincent, Tulunga, Dhanachandra and Asif K deserve a respectable mention for their efforts this season.

Most Memorable Matches

Although it was a mixed bag of results for Prayag united throughout the season, but the side did manage to garner some magnificent results. Among them was a clinical performance against Mohun Bagan in the second round of the I-League. It was more of an announcement on the big stage, with a solid display of their prowess.

Then there was a rout of United Sikkim which saw Prayag United hit the back of the net a mammoth ten times. Ranti alone was a goal short of a double hattrick in that match. Victory against Dempo in a crucial round fourteen tie helped the Kolkata team string together three win after disappointing back to back losses. Carlos Hernandez clinched the victory with a last minute free kick nestling into the side netting.

IFA shield final which saw Prayag United lock horns with East Bengal was another memorable tie which actually led to some silverware for the Prayag backed side. Prayag got the better of the defending champions East Bengal, riding on a Ranti Martins strike to clinch their maiden title. The victory was sweet as they avenged for their last years’ loss to the same opponents on penalties.

Most Disappointing Matches:

A home loss to a side which was struggling, Sporting Club, in the thirteenth round was one of the most disheartening losses of the campaign for Eelco’s side. After going through a very rough patch, the Purple brigade managed to get the better of arch rivals East Bengal putting in a clinical performance, but then it was followed by two losses, including this one, which shunted their hopes of winning the league this time around.

Another loss which eventually had a huge impact on the Prayag season was the first round loss to Salgaocar. This performance not only hampered their knockout stage plans, but it also brewed initial thoughts of this team not working as a unit.

Most Memorable Goal

Carlos Hernandez swirled a perfect free kick up and over the wall to clinch vital three points against Dempo at home. Prior to that the Eelco mentored side had lost five of their last six games, and hosting defending champions Dempo was a tricky task for the team. After both the teams failed to break the deadlock, a free kick was awarded to the hosts, which former Costa Rica international slotted perfectly in the side net.