Talking Points From Week 17 Of ISL 5

FC Goa 3 – Kerala Blasters 0

     1) Brandon Becoming Mainstay In Lobera’s Squad

Five years ago, Brandon Fernandes was rejecting contract offers from Indian clubs. Having made a move to ASD Cape Town in South Africa as a youngster, one of India’s finest prospects at the time was hopeful of securing a move to Europe. Unfortunately for him, his dream wouldn’t materialize, and he came back to India, joining Sporting Clube De Goa in 2015. Various stints at ISL and I-League clubs followed but injuries hindered his development before he joined FC Goa last season. He had an impressive campaign and under Sergio Lobera’s tutelage, has taken the next step in this Goa side. His ability with the ball and in tight spaces is rare among Indian players and it has been pleasing to see him mixing it up with the talented foreign contingent at Goa. His run on the left flank and pin-point cross sent the Gaurs on their way and he opened up the full array of party tricks at the Blasters’ expense as the home side ran out comfortable winners.

     2) Refereeing Decision Haunts Kerala Yet Again

The Blasters had a poor run with officiating mistakes early in the campaign that cost them, and they would be frustrated with yet another poor call in this game. Matej Poplatnik played a cute reverse ball for Slavisa Stojanovic to score from, only for the linesman to signal an offside. Except that it was nowhere close to offside. On the next play, Goa would score and take the lead. While there was no disputing the dominance of the home team, Nilo Vengada can point to that incident as the moment when the whole complexion of the contest changed. Kerala’s loss gives some hope to Chennaiyin in the race for the wooden spoon, as remote as that possibility is given the way the Machans are playing at the moment. The Blasters, on the other hand, would want to end their season on a high against NorthEast United, if only to give their long-suffering home support something to cling on to for next season.

NorthEast United 1 – FC Pune City 1

     3) Highlanders Fail To Secure Playoff Spot

A large crowd turned up to goad the home side into the playoffs but had to return disappointed as NorthEast failed to convert dominance of the ball into a victory. It took a big error from the opposition goalkeeper, Kamaljit Singh, for the Highlanders to take the lead and for large portions of the game, it was Pune who offered more of a threat. NorthEast have labored since December and only have two victories in nine games. They owe their position in the table to early season results but their recent run means that qualification could elude them even with an away draw against Kerala, if Mumbai and Jamshedpur get positive results from their remaining games.

     4) Pune Owners Should End Manager Merry-Go-Round

The Stallions are building a reputation for themselves as a managerial graveyard. No other franchise has gone through as many head coaches as the team from Pune. Phil Brown is the eighth appointment in five seasons, including Marcos Paqueta, who terminated his contract with the side before the season even began. In the past, the management team had a fallout with Antonio Lopez Habas and Ranko Popovic’s contract was not renewed even after he took the side to the playoffs for the first time in their history last season. Phil Brown has come in at a difficult time and turned the fortunes of a struggling side. They have been unbeaten since November and were unlucky not to take all three points from this game. The owners would do well to announce his retention for next season and allow him to build on the good work.

Bengaluru FC 3 – FC Goa 0

     5) Sense Of Injustice Revitalize The Blues

Bengaluru looked bereft of ideas in the first half of this top-of-the-table clash but Nishu Kumar’s sending off seemed to bring them to life. Protestations continued right through half-time and when the side came out of the dressing room, they seemed determined to prove a point, and they did. The first goal seemed to stun Goa and they built on that, with Miku finally putting in a showing commensurate with his reputation. In front of the rested Sunil Chhetri and Erik Paartalu, the Blues kicked into gear after a few poor performances and as we enter the playoffs, the sending off might even begin to appear as a godsend. Incidents like these sometimes galvanize and help teams focus better on the task at hand, and the timing could not be better.

     6) Goa’s Soft Belly Exposed

Unlike their hosts, Goa have strolled through most games this season. They started off on a similar vein in this match and would have been ahead by at least a couple in the first half if they had taken their chances. That was not to be the case and they seemed to have the stuffing knocked out of them when Juanan put the Blues ahead. The ability of this Sergio Lobera side to grind out results has been questioned time and again over the past two seasons and their big match temperament seems to be suspect. Bengaluru came out on top in the reverse fixture in November as well, and as the knockouts in the past have shown, beautiful football counts for naught if it isn’t bedded to some steel. Goa will need to find some over the next couple of weeks.

ATK 1 – Mumbai City FC 3

     7) ATK See Better Version Of Themselves In Opponent

Steve Coppell’s penchant for counter-attacking football has been known for a while now in Indian football. He sets his teams up not to be beat first and foremost and while he did not have the budget in previous jobs to add quality up front, that has not been the case at ATK. It is therefore a big surprise that for all the money the owners have spent on building their squad, they have not added quality players with pace to burn in the forward areas. Kalu Uche and Balwant Singh are decent target men while Manuel Lanzarote, Edu Garcia and Everton Santos are midfielders who have been asked to do a job for the team this season in positions that do not necessarily suit them. ATK only need to look across at Mumbai who schooled them on counter-attacking tactics with Modou Sougou, Arnold Issoko and Pranjal Bhumij running amok right through the night. In these three players lay the template for what the Kolkatan side should have done this season.

     8) Mumbai Confirm Progress Into Playoffs

After doing a decent impression of a side willing to throw their presents out of the window right through this month, the Islanders confirmed their entry into the playoffs with an impressive victory. Pranjal Bhumij made his full ISL debut with an assured display, replacing the suspended Rafael Bastos in the starting lineup. His ball over the top for Sougou set the ball rolling for Mumbai and while Bipin Singh replaced him in the second half as Jorge Costa decided to shore things up, the youngster has provided his manager with an extra option as the business end of the league comes around. Mumbai will now want to build some momentum going into the semifinals and win against Pune in the last game of the ISL regular season.

Chennaiyin FC 0 – Jamshedpur FC 0

     9) Machans In Shut-Down Mode

The defending champions seemed content to finish at the bottom of the table by going through the motions in their final home game of the season. The mathematical possibility of finishing above Kerala remained before the match began but Chennaiyin played at an even lesser intensity than they have for the rest of the campaign, as improbable as that sounds. In added time, John Gregory tried to run down the clock by asking his misfiring striker, Jeje Lalpekhlua, to take his own sweet time getting substituted. Jeje, who was initially trying to rush off the pitch thinking his manager wanted a winner, looked suitably bemused. It summed up the story of Chennaiyin’s season really. Underwhelming all around.

     10) Worst Playoff Push Ever By The Red Miners

The way Jamshedpur played for most of this game, a casual observer would have believed that they were completely out of playoff contention. That was hardly the case as a win for the Red Miners would have taken the chase for the fourth and final spot into the last round of fixtures. In a must-win game against a side that had conceded more than two goals per game at home this season, Jamshedpur kept knocking the ball from side to side without troubling the Chennaiyin defence. At one point late in the game, a player threw the ball away after conceding a throw-in, rather than getting the home side to take it quickly. It truly beggared all belief and is probably just as well that they miss out by a whisker for the second season in a row. As much as nine draws in seventeen games knocked the stuffing out of their campaign, they did not deserve to go through on this performance.

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