Leaving behind all pre-season disappointments, United SC have made a impressive start to the I-League and after round two are perched at the top.
Unlike the 2012-13 season where United Sports club were the talk of the town for spending huge amount of money to bring in star players like Carlos Hernandes, Ranti Martins, 2013-14 season began on a rather sour note for the Kolkata giants. Prayag backed out from sponsoring the club and they failed to find a sponsor. The senior players like Sangram Mukherjee, Deepak Mondal and Lalkamal Bhowmick came out to help the club in its testing times and signed contracts without any financial payments. And not only this, they even convinced other players especially the foreigners – Ranti Martins and Bello Rasaq to sign contracts. In I-League where players change clubs due to financial incentives, this was a rare sight.
United SC began its pre season training just 3 weeks before I-League and with just 25 players. There was always a doubt over how the club would play given that most of the clubs had started preparing 6 weeks before the league. The lack of a sponsor was also not helping the cause but two rounds into the I-League all these doubts have been quelled. United Sports Club currently lead the I-League table having won both of their first two encounters.
A lot of credit for United Sports Club’ s impressive form goes to the midfield quartet of Lalkamal Bhowmick, K. Asif, Mohammed Rafique and C.K. Vineeth who have been creating lot of chances for the striking duo of Ranti Martins and Eric Brown. Lalkamal and Asif have performed an admirable job in the heart of midfield breaking down opponent attacks while Vineeth has really come of age on the left flank. The presence of evergreen Deepak Mondal, Dhanachandra Singh and Sangram Mukherjee lends stability at the back.
While Ranti Martins is one of the best strikers in the league, United SC’s signing of Eric Brown was an intelligent piece of business as the Liberian striker had a stellar season with ONGC last time around. Eric has already scored in both the matches including a wonderful solo goal. Along with Bello Rasaq, United Sports Club have one of the best foreign contingent in I-League at the moment as all three players are well versed with Indian conditions and while the other new foreign players are taking time to settle, the trio have already played an instrumental role in clubs’s victories.
Along with the players, Dutch coach Eelco Schattorie deserves a special mention as the much travelled 41 year old has done a phenomenal job at the club given the limited resources. Given his limited player pool Schattorie has decided to play a second string team in the Kolkata league in order to keep the players fresh for the I-League. The younger players in the team – C.K. Vineeth, Mohammed Rafique and Ishan Debnath have grown in stature under him. His focus on possession based football and modern training methods have won accolades as well. The club management also needs to be lauded in their efforts to the keep the club running despite the financial crisis. Some clubs have been forced to shut down because of financial crisis in recent times. All in all it has been a good start to the I-League campaign for United SC given the difficult times the club has faced in recent times. Only Time will tell how they fare throughout the year.
United SC took on Sporting Club de Goa in the opening match of match-day 2 and the home side defeated the visitors 3-1 thanks to a 87th minute goal from and an injury time striker form Eric Brown. Ranti Martins put the home side ahead in the 23rd minute after C.K. Vineeth had gone past a couple of Sporting defenders. A slip by Bello Rasaq allowed Jovel Martins to pass the ball to Victorino Fernandes who equalized in the 56th minute. Just when it seemed like the match was heading towards a draw, U-23 player Biswajit Biswas fired United Sports Club into the lead after Sporting keeper Ravi Kumar failed to gather completely a weak Ranti Martins header. Eric Brown, who was having an impressive game made it 3-1, when he ran almost 60 yards and dodged past the entire Sporting defense before scoring the third goal. For United SC, this is there second win on the trot while Sporting club , who were touted as the dark-horses by a lot of pundits, will look have to introspect.
With East Bengal ‘s match against Mohammedan Sporting being postponed due to former’s AFC Cup assignment, only one match was played on Saturday – Churchill Brothers v Mohun Bagan which was also dubbed as the marquee match of the round. The match was played at high tempo but both sides were woeful upfront, meaning the match ended as a goal-less draw. Churchill started with all four of their foreigners – Henri Antchouet, Hugo Machado, Amad Ahmad Al Kaddour and Hameed Adesope while inspirational striker Odafa Okolie was missing for Bagan. The match started on a slow note but soon picked up with Katsumi Yusa for Bagan and Hugo Machado for Churchill being in the thick of things. The Red Machines however suffered a blow when Machado picked up a knock and had to be substituted early in the second half. Churchill Brothers did bulk of attacking in the later half of the game but with Wahid Sali and Kingshuk Debnath in impressive, they had to be content with a draw. While Bagan will be content with a point, things are not looking bright for Sukhwinder Singh’s Churchill Brothers.
A jolted Dempo squad visited Pune to take on hosts Mumabi FC who came into the match having held Sporting Club de Goa to a 1-1 draw in the last match. Dempo were undoubtedly the better side in the first 20-25 minutes but despite some good moves in the midfield , the Goans failed to score. Jeje Lalpekhlua headed home a Clifford Miranda free-kick on the stroke of half time as Dempo went into the half-time leading 1-0. The second half saw Mumbai FC attack with purpose and in bid to equalize, Khalid Jamil made a tactical switch and pushed Afghan skipper Amiri to play as a striker upfront. The move paid off in the 86th minute when after relentless pressure Anwar Ali headed home a Nicholas Rodrigues. The talk of the match however was the number of chances missed by the Dempo forward line in-particular Billy Mehmet. The former West Ham academy player has failed to do justice to his talent, a fact that must be worrying coach Arthur Papas.
Bengaluru FC played host to Rangdajied United in a match of I-League new comers and handsomely defeated the North-Eastern side 3-0 with goals from John Johnson, Sean Rooney and Sunil Chhetri. Motivated by their fans Bengaluru FC pressed the accelerator right from the start and were rewarded in the 33rd minute when John Johnson headed home from a Beikhokhei Beingaichho corner kick. Playing in an attacking 4-3-3 formation, Rooney doubled the lead on 57th minute with Beikhokhei notching up another assist. Though Edmar Figueira and Yohei Iwasaki combined well for the visitors , Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri put the game beyond doubt when he latched on to a Sean Rooney pass and made it 3-0. It was the first I-League win for the JSW backed boys while Santosh Kashyap and Rangdajied United have plenty to ponder before the next match.
The last match of the round saw Shillong Lajong take on Pune FC in a clash of two most in-form teams and it was the Red Lizards who seized the early initiative with Douhou Pierre at the heart of most of the attacking moves. Lajong came back into the game with Cornell Glenn and Uilliams Bomfin testing Amrinder Singh but it remained nil nil til the half time. The second half was a repeat of the first half with Pune FC looking the better of the two sides but with neither team able to score the match ended in a goal-less draw. Lajong, often maligned for their poor away form, has now taken four points in their first two away matches despite playing in two of the toughest away grounds in the league.