After the end of round 16 of the I-League, 2010-11 champions Salgaocar found themselves at the 12th position with 11 points from 14 outings, staring at a possible relegation. Karim Bencherifa had departed to Mohun Bagan and the players were finding it difficult to cope without the Moroccan with whom they had developed an understanding during their triumph in the 2010/11 season. David Booth, the former Mahindra United coach, was roped in to save the Goan giants from relegation and the Englishman has brought about a remarkable turnaround.
Eleven games later Salgaocar find themselves at the 6th position with 33 points from 25 games having been undefeated in their last five matches. A lot of credit for this goes to some smart signings by David Booth who replaced misfiring strikers Sean Rooney and Angel Guirado Aldeguer with Josimar and Gabriel Obatola. Unlike Rooney and Guirado, who were new to the Indian conditions, Josimar had the experience of playing in Indian conditions while the tall Obatola suited the long direct style of football that Booth advocated. Josimar has scored 6 goals in 8 games for the club including 4 in the famous 9-0 thrashing of United Sikkim while Obatola has also scored thrice in 9 games he has played.
The form of midfielders John Wilkinson, who was roped in by Booth in place of Quinton Jacobs and Francis Fernandez has been the driving force for the club’s upward march. Wilkinson has played in crucial part in dictating play from the midfield while Francis has been among the goals of late and the Indian international is arguably Salgaocar’s player of the season. Francis scored a brace against Pune FC during Salgaocar’s impressive 2-0 win over the Red Lizards at Balewadi Sports Complex. Luciano Sabrosa ‘s return from the injury gave Salgoacar assurance at the back something they were lacking at the start.
A number of Indian players have also risen to occasion and have helped the team’s cause. Midfielders Randeep Singh and Rocus Lamare have performed consistently while defenders Nicolau Colaco and Augustin Fernandes have led the Salgaocar defense which looked porous in the early stages of the league with later even scoring four crucial goals. Strikers Milagres Gonsalves and Marcus Masceranhas have also been among the goals whenever they have been given chances.
Despite the fact that Booth has steered the Goan Greens from a 12th in the table to 6th, it comes as a surprise that the Salgaocar management has decided to release him. The move is surprising given that the players were beginning to understand the style of play that he wanted them to play and the team was looking settled. Booth has infact left the country and assistant coach Peter Vales will be guiding the team in the last match against Dempo.
On the field Salgaocar edged past a spirited Arrows side 2-1 in an exciting match which could have gone either way. Salgoacar began the better of the two sides but Josimar, Milagres and Obatola were not able to make the most of the chances that came their way. It was Seminlen Doungel who broke the deadlock and headed Arrows into the lead with a wonderful goal in the 36th minute but Salgaocar soon equalized when Francis Fernandes’s cross was headed by Josimar in the 43rd minute. Obatola gave the home side the lead in the 50th minute which proved decisive in the end despite Arrows’s efforts to equalize in the last 15 minutes of the game.
In the opening match of the round Prayag United strengthened their grip on the 4th spot with a 2-0 win over Shillong Lajong who continue to falter way from home. Ranty Martins scored from the spot in the 20th minute while Shylo Malswamtulunga added another seven minutes later to make it 2-0. Substitute Sho Kamimura did create some chances for Lajong in the second half but it was easy three points for the hosts with Ranty Martins grabbing the Man-of-Match award. Ranty also looks all set to win his third straight top scorer award this season.
Pune FC showed their intent to fight for the top spot as they dismantled Air-India 6-0 in a one-sided encounter. The match began with both sided slugging it out in the midfield until Boima Karpeh opened the account in the 26th minute. The goal seemed to have openend the floodgates as James Moga doubled the lead in the 39th minute as the two teams went into the break. Captain Douhou Pierre scored the third in the 59th minute while James Moga made it 4-0 in the 67th minute with his second. Jeje Lalpekhlua scored the fifth in the minute while assisted the sixth which was scored by Nikhil Kadam. Relegation seems imminent for the Airmen who started the match with an all Indian line-up.
ONGC’s last match at Ambedkar Stadium Delhi ended in a 1-1 draw with Mumbai FC. Katsumi Yusa scored from the spot in the 19th minute to give oilmen the lead. Mumbai FC came back strongly after the goal but were denied by some inspired keeping by Rehensh under the ONGC post. Yusif Yakubu however dented home side’s hopes of a win when he scored from a Abhishek Yadav pass.
United Sikkim played host to an inform Sporting side, looking to end their campaign on a high but flattered to deceive once again going down 3-0. Dawson Fernandes, who has been in impressive form in this year opened the scoring in the 10th minute and had a hand in the second goal score by Pratesh Shirodkar in the injury time of first half. Seiya Sugishita scored the third in the 91st minute from Kalu Ogba freekick to round off a 3-0 win and consolidate Sporting’s position in the top half of the table. The defeat means United Sikkim will end the League in the bottom two but with AIFF yet to decide on relegation given the confusion over institutional sides, it is still not clear if they will get relegated.
The Marquee clash of the penultimate round pipped I-League leaders Churchill Brother against a resurgent Mohun Bagan side in what promised to be a cracker of a match. Churchill Brothers took a giant step towards their second I-League title when they won 2-0 thanks to a brace from Henri Antchouet who exposed Bagan’s porous defense once again. Antchouet scored the first in the 19th minute after he combined well with Sunil Chhetri and added a second in the 34th minute. Sandip Nandy had an outstanding match as he denied Odafa Okolie on multiple occasions and was rightly adjudged the Man-of-Match. Odafa was the best player on the night for the Bagan side and has two goal-line clearances affected by Franco and Ravanan. Bagan now need one win from the remaining four matches to avoid finishing in the bottom two