Five rounds into the I-League, Salgaocar have emerged as early title contenders, winning three of their matches. Despite a new coach and a new set of foreign players, the team looks well settled and is brimming with confidence. What has been amazing has been the ease with which they have dominated their oppositions. After a patchy 2012/13 season where they finished seventh in the table, struggled with frequent changes in coaching staff and foreign players , Salgaocar look all set to launch a serious title challenge this time around.
A major reason driving Salgaocar’ s impressive run has the introduction of Derrick Pereira who as a player plied his trade in the club. Derrick joined the club after a four year successful stint with Pune where he transformed the Pune side into a powerhouse of Indian Football. A brilliant man manager well versed with I-League, Derrick is a former I-League winner with Mahindra United. His sides have always been disciplined and are not dependent on any single individual and this Salgaocar side also reflects this quality. Derrick has carefully chosen his set of foreign players and has transformed Salgaocar into a compact side with players gelling both on and off the field. Salgaocar were one of the first I-League side to start their pre-season and are now reaping benefits of that.
While the new foreign are still struggling to make a mark in I-League, striker Darryl Duffy has already scored five goals in I-League and is the top scorer in the I-League o far. Scoring goals was Salgaocar’s achilles’ heel last season and for the moment Duffy seems to have solved the problem as the opposition teams are finding tough to mark him down. French striker Claude Gnakpa has also scored a goal in the I-League and is complementing Duffy well. The talking point however has been Salgaocar’ s strength on the flanks specially the right flank. Nicolau Colaco has been impressive as the right back with his overlapping runs and has combined with the Francis Fernandes and a lot of Salgaocar’s goals have come through the right flank. Frequent interchange of flanks between Gilbert Oliviera, who has looked lively on the left, and Franics have also troubled the opposition sides. Strikers scoring from the crosses coming in from the wings has been the style of most of Salgaocar’ s goals this season. Such has been the performance of the duo that Karma Tsewang has had little role to play so far.
Youngster Clifton Dias has been persisted with by Derrick Pereira in the center of the park and the youngster hasn’t disappointed putting in impressive performances along with the industrious Rocus Lamare. With a foreign central midfielder expected to join the squad soon, Salgaocar’ s options will increase. Along with this the likes of Karnajit Singh and Chika Wali have done their job to perfection. What is amazing is the bench strength of Salgaocar with the likes of Karma Tsewang, Brian Mascarenhas and Randeep Singh waiting on the bench and with a fourth foreigner expected soon, the depth in the squad will increase. A cause of concern has been the absence of a regular left back which has been hurting the team. Salgaocar’ s squad is also brimming with a lot of young players and Derrick Pereira is probably the best person to guide them and induct them into the main team as he showed in his stint at Pune.
On the field, Salgaocar defeated Mumbai FC 3-1 courtesy a brace from Darryl Duffy with all four goals coming in the second half. The first half had opportunities for both the team but with neither team able to score , the score-line remained 0-0 at the halftime. Duffy broke the deadlock when he latched on to a pass from left back Rahul Kumar, outfoxed two defenders before giving Salgaocar a well deserved lead in the 65th minute. Duffy doubled the lead 5 minutes later when he headed home a Gilbert Oliviera cross. Mumbai FC did pull one back in the 85th minute through Jayesh Rane but Gilbert Oliviera put to bed any hopes Mumbai had of making a comeback when he scored in the 89th minute. The win took Salgaocar to the top while Mumbai FC remained at the sixth position.
Dempo recorded the first win of Arthur Papas era when they defeated a lackluster East Bengal side 3-1 at Kalyani. It was the away side which began on the offensive and went into the lead in the 3rd minute itself when Billy Mehmet burst down the right flank and sent in a cross which Clifford Miranda converted. Dempo were the dominant side in the first half with Clifford Miranda and Peter Carvalho missing easy chances while Chidi Edeh blasted his spot kick wide in the 35th minute much to the agony of the crowd. Beto doubled the lead in the 53th minute and then made it 3-0 when he converted from the spot in the 77th minute. Baljit Singh did pull one back in the 85th minute but overall it was a disappointing performance from the home side who are due to play the second leg of AFC Cup semi-final on 22nd. Controversy erupted in the match when a fire cracker was thrown at Sameer Naik by East Bengal when he was about to take a throw in.
Shillong Lajong hosted United SC searching for their first home win and after a goal-less first half which had opportunities for both the sides it was United SC who went ahead courtesy Eric Brown’s third goal of the season in the 48th minute. Cornell Glen equalized two minutes later from a long throw in taken by Tuboi. Lajong pressed hard for a winner but Eelco Schattorie’s side hung for the draw. Lajong need to get back to winning games else it might prove a long season for them yet again while for Kolkata side the signing of Eric Brown is proving to be a masterstroke.
Mohun Bagan played their first home game of the season after three away games when they took on Sporting Club de Goa. Sans Odafa, Bagan continued to miss chances that came their way in the first ten minutes and were punished when Boima Karpeh fired Sporting into the lead in the 17th minute. Down by a goal, Bagan tried hard to come back with Katsumi Yusa, Denson Devadas and Zakeer Mundampara in the thick of things but poor finishing from Eric Muranda and CS Sabeeth continued to let them down. Sporting played on the counters and on one such counter, Boima doubled the led with Dawson Fernandes grabbing the assist. Mohun Bagan pulled one back in the 84th minute when Muranda converted from the spot which had resulted from a Ram Malik ‘s cross but it was too late in the day. Bagan now have only two points from four outings and the pressure is increasing on Bencherifa to deliver a positive result.
Pune FC hosted Churchill Brothers in Pune and the defending champions slumped to their third defeat in five matches as the Red Lizards rode on Calum Angus’s goal to script a 1-0 win. The match began on a high tempo with both sides getting chances in the first few minutes but it was the home side who began dominating with Nikhil Kadam, James Meyer and Douhou Pierre in the thick of things. Calum Angus scored the winner in the 52nd minute from a free kick from just outside the box after Nikhil Kadam had been fouled by Denzil Franco. Youngster Thongkhosem Haokip who had scored in the last game looked lively throughout the match but failed to score despite chances coming his way in either half. The win consolidates Pune ‘s growing strength in I-League while things look far from normal for Churchill Brothers and Subhash Bhormick has his task cut out before it gets too late.
Looking for their first point, Mohammedan Sporting took on Rangdajied United in a battle between two bottom ranked sides and the Kolkata side notched up an impressive 3-0 win with the goals coming in the first half itself. Tolgay Ozbey fired Mohammedan into the lead in the 7th minute from a powerful right footer from outside the box and skipper Jerry Zirsanga made it 2-0 in the 18th minute when he headed home from a corner. Stung by two goals, Rangdajied pressed the accelerator and started creating chances of their own with Edmar Figueira and Shin Hojun proving a constant threat for the Black Panthers. Much against the run of the play Josimar made it 3-0 in the 42nd minute and the score-line remained as it is with man of the match Mohammedan custodian Ashok Singh making some excellent saves to deny Rangdajied on several occasions. The win will definitely ease some pressure off Abdul Aziz Moshood while Rangdajied are still in search of their first win of the tournament.