Bengaluru FC 2 – Kerala Blasters 2
1) Lewis Experiment Almost Costs The Blues
Carles Cuadrat sprung a surprise before kickoff by naming midfielder Kean Lewis as his designated right-back for the night, with Rahul Bheke and Rino Anto warming the bench. As an audition for that role, it could not have gone much worse for Lewis. He was constantly caught out of position in the first half and Kerala kept pumping balls down his flank to expose his discomfort. Almost immediately after he let a ball roll out of play under his feet, he swung wildly at a ball into the box and hit thin air. Except for his arm, that is. A penalty was awarded, and the Blasters were on their way. He was immediately moved back into midfield, exchanging positions with Harmanjot Khabra. Bheke was brought in at the start of the second half, ending a miserable night for the winger. The coach should probably take the blame on this one. Once Bheke and Xisco Hernandez were introduced into a more familiar looking lineup, the Blues improved considerably.
2) Sahal Pushing For Inclusion In National Side
Sahal Abdul Samad has been a rare bright spark for the Blasters this season. The former Kerala Santosh Trophy player was drafted into the side in 2017 after catching the eye of scouts but found playing time extremely hard to come by initially. He has found more than a thousand minutes of action this campaign and has excelled as a box-to-box midfielder. Named in the preliminary national squad for the Asian Cup, he did not make the final cut. His performance against Bengaluru suggests that he will not have to wait too long for his first cap. Covering every blade of grass on the field, he put in an imperious display full of quality and created regular opportunities for his teammates in the box. If they had put some of those chances away, this game would have gone a completely different way. Clinical finishing, however, hasn’t been a Blasters forte for a long time now, Courage Pekuson’s stunner in this match notwithstanding.
NorthEast United 1 – Delhi Dynamos 1
3) Middling Run Continues For Highlanders
After bossing the league in the first half of the season, the team from the NorthEast have only collected seven points from their last seven fixtures. Unsurprisingly, their dependence on Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego up front has been found out and the Highlanders have not seen other players step up to the plate. Mislav Komorski’s injury in the previous game against Bengaluru allowed Eelco Schattorie to hand Panagiotis Triadis his first start and while the Greek player impressed with a wily display, none of his three shots found the back of the net. It was left to Ogbeche, marked more heavily in recent games, to find an opening for his side. He won himself an extremely soft penalty and finished with aplomb to rescue a point for his side. The result does NorthEast no favours and they are in danger of missing out on qualification for the playoffs, unimaginable until very recently.
4) Familiar Bugbear Costs Delhi Again
The lack of a number nine who can get goals has compromised Delhi’s season and while recent good results have deflected attention away from those woes, that conversation veered back into focus after another poor outing for Daniel Lalhlimpuia. He only has one goal for the season and his lack of confidence is highlighted with every passing game. Andrija Kaludjerovic, who had just the one goal too, has been let go of and a replacement striker has not been signed with Seiminmang Manchong promoted from the reserves. To his credit, he looked more threatening than Daniel when introduced in the second half and has probably played himself into a starting role. With such slim pickings to choose from, what does Josep Gombau have to lose?
Jamshedpur FC 1 – Mumbai City FC 0
5) Memo Rescues The Miners
While anything less than victory wouldn’t have put the Red Miners out of playoff contention, it certainly would have increased the odds considerably. As it turns out, Memo’s goal blew the table wide open with only four points separating Jamshedpur in fifth from Mumbai in second. Jamshedpur huffed and puffed for most of this game and the impact of Michael Soosairaj over the course of the campaign cannot be overstated. The team do not possess another player with his ability to take defenders on and they have missed his pace and directness. The goal arrived the way they normally do for Jamshedpur; off a set-piece. Amrinder Singh came out of his line to punch the ball out only for Memo to guide a header into the far corner of the vacated goal. It was worth its weight in gold for a team desperate not to miss out on the latter stages like they did last year.
6) Islanders Miss Chance to Earn Breathing Space
Mumbai fell to consecutive defeats for the first time in this campaign. Injuries to key personnel are beginning to take a toll. They missed top scorer, Modou Sougou, in the previous game and while he returned to the starting lineup for this encounter, Arnold Issoko had to sit this one out. Bipin Singh does not carry quite the same threat as the Congolese and with a man always snapping at Rafael Bastos’ heels, Mumbai created precious little. The Islanders would probably have been content with a point before the game began but now, they have left themselves with a bit of work to do to guarantee progress.
Chennaiyin FC 2 – Bengaluru FC 1
7) First Home Win For The Holders
Chennaiyin picked up their first home win of the season and their first points since November by beating table toppers, Bengaluru. In a battle between last year’s finalists, the champions withstood some early pressure from their opponents before scoring two before the break. Jeje Lalpekhlua got his first goal of the campaign in a sequence of play which was poor all around. C.K Vineeth’s attempted through ball was intercepted by Nishu Kumar but he somehow managed to hack it behind him onto the path of Jeje. The Indian international’s lack of form showed when he hit the ball straight at Gurpreet with the whole goal at his mercy. Thankfully for him, the goalkeeper only managed to push the ball into the net when he should really have done better. It was one of the scruffiest goals of the season, but it sent Chennaiyin on their way.
8) Worrying Signs Continue For Bengaluru
There would be no comeback this time around as the Blues put in another unconvincing performance. Bengaluru have found a way to win rather than steamroll opponents this season, but they have not hit their stride since the international break. Miku is easing his way back into the side and he looked rusty yet again, but Carles Cuadrat has continued his game of musical chairs with the full-back and midfield positions, which cannot be helping this side settle into any sort of rhythm. Harmanjot Khabra, Nishu Kumar and Rahul Bheke have been asked to play multiple roles depending on the opposition and one has to wonder if the side’s stodginess in transition this season is a result of all the chopping and changing.
FC Pune City 2 – ATK 2
9) Robin Ends Long Barren Spell
Robin Singh has played his way out of the national team in recent years and some of it has to do with the fact that he had not scored a goal in fourteen months. That unwanted streak ended against ATK and his goal reminded us of the qualities that brought him into the national reckoning. He rose highest at a corner and thumped the ball into the back of the net from a tricky angle, salvaging a point for the Stallions in the process. Pune have not lost a game in four and are ending the season strongly. They will have a big say in the playoff race, what with matches against Jamshedpur, NorthEast and Mumbai to come before the season ends. Robin would like to add to his goal tally before that though. He has made a reputation as a one goal a season player since 2016, notching that return at both Goa and ATK in the previous two seasons.
10) ATK Playoff Push Could Come Up Short
For a team with playoff aspirations, ATK are fast getting into a position where other results would have to go their way. They remain three points away from NorthEast United with three fixtures remaining but two of those are against Goa and Mumbai, in the top four themselves, and the task has gotten tougher with every passing week. Their recent run of results has not helped, with only one win in five and this was their third draw in that time. They had nineteen shots on goal in this match, including a stunning effort from Jayesh Rane, which suggests that they had a proper go at it but a win at Goa is imperative if they want to stay in the conversation come March.