NorthEast United 0 – Bengaluru FC 2
1) Gallego Return Silver Lining In Defeat
Two hundred and eighty three days after sustaining a horrendous injury against the same opponent, Federico Gallego made a universally welcome return to the ISL. He probably got more minutes than planned as Sunil Chhetri’s penalty conversion in the 68th minute forced Robert Jarni’s hand. The Highlanders had been much the better side until then without finding a cutting edge with debutant Lalengmawia in particular having a good game. The nineteen-year old Indian Arrows product looked extremely comfortable on the ball and a trial by fire against the defending champions did not daunt him. It was all in vain though and once Bengaluru had the lead, the fight left NorthEast United’s players. The home side’s winless run at Guwahati extends to four matches.
2) Champions Ride Their Luck To Grind Win Out
After having their unbeaten run at home come to an end three days earlier, the Blues were looking for an appropriate response at the Indira Gandhi Stadium. With a late decision taken by authorities to allow spectators into the venue after widespread protests in the city, only 3500 people were on hand to watch the fixture. The lack of atmosphere may have contributed to an unusually Bengaluru performance and it took an iffy decision by the referee to turn the match their way. Redeem Tlang was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box even though replays suggested that it had bounced off his thigh. Chhetri did not need a second invitation and Albert Serran sealed the victory with his first goal in a Blues shirt.
Jamshedpur FC 1 – Mumbai City FC 2
3) Home Side’s December Woes Continue
A piece of action in the 70th minute of this game sums up the Red Miners’ current problems. Chasing the equaliser that could get them back in the match, Farukh Choudhary sliced an intended dipper from the edge of the box towards his colleague, C.K. Vineeth. The Keralite winger went for a spectacular overhead that got shanked hopelessly off-target for Issac Vanmalsawma to have his chance. Predictably, his effort skewed embarrassingly wide. The three attempts took about five seconds between them and highlighted Jamshedpur’s troubles without their main striker, Sergio Castel. The Red Miners have not won a single game in December and with six of their nine games remaining away from home, tough times beckon.
4) Machado Takes Centre Stage
Mumbai’s captain, Paulo Machado, has had a quiet first half to the season. He kicked into gear against Jamshedpur, fooling seasoned keeper Subrata Paul and two defenders with the near-post free-kick that gave the away side the lead. He also produced a delicious no-look pass along the turf for Modou Sougou to lay off the winner. Unlike Jamshedpur, the Islanders have had a brilliant December and have won two on the bounce, including a win against the defending champions, Bengaluru. Both victories have been away from home and with three of their next four fixtures at the Mumbai Football Arena, they have given themselves a great chance to make the play-offs. With an in-form captain leading the way, Mumbai are the team everyone wants to avoid at the moment.
Chennaiyin FC 3 – Kerala Blasters 1
5) Chhangte Gives Rakip A Hard Time
Owen Coyle made his dugout debut at the Marina Arena and was rewarded by his team with all three points. His young winger, Lallianzuala Chhangte, had one of his better performances in the blue shirt and wreaked havoc along the left flank. Mohammad Rakip has been one of Kerala’s best players this season but was given a torrid time by the Mizo player and the Chennaiyin midfield kept pumping balls for Chhangte to chase. He did not disappoint, scoring one goal and setting up another to stretch the home side’s unbeaten run to four games. What would have pleased the manager though would be the manner of the performance and he will hope that his players display the same intensity in their next fixture against Goa.
6) Referee Blooper Does Not Save Blasters
Most people watching have probably never seen anything like it on a football field. The game was interestingly poised after Bartholomew Ogbeche scored one of the goals of the season to even up the game at 1-1. What followed was truly bizarre. Anirudh Thapa shoved Seityasen Singh in the back in the centre-circle and drew a whistle from Om Prakash Thakur. As Kerala’s players converged to take the free-kick, he strangely enough decided to point in the direction of the Blasters goal. Chennaiyin forward, Nerijus Valskis, couldn’t believe what he had seen but still checked with the referee if this was indeed what he signalled. After getting a nod in confirmation, he initiated a break from which Chennaiyin scored. Better sense prevailed after a few minutes of heated discussions both on and off the field and the goal was rescinded. The reprieve was temporary however, and the home team scored again almost immediately. The Blasters never recovered and slid down to ninth in the table.
Hyderabad FC 2 – ATK 2
7) Spotlight On Refereeing Again
Poor Hyderabad cannot catch a break. In their most impressive performance of the season against a team with title credentials, the referee came to their opponents’ aid in the worst manner possible. A ball into the box had clearly hit Ashish Rai in the chest but the official inexplicably pointed to the spot and ATK had a lead they did not deserve. It is to the team’s credit that they did not let their efforts flag and led 2-1 by the 85th minute. A howler from goalkeeper, Kamaljit Singh, on the stroke of added time denied the home side the win but there were encouraging signs for Phil Brown. Néstor Gordillo made his long awaited debut and looked the part while Bobô finally showed the goal-scoring prowess he is renowned for. The playoff places are gone but it would do the new franchise a whole lot of good if they could have a solid second half of the campaign.
8) Krishna Shows Ruthless Streak Yet Again
Roy Krishna has stormed to the top of the scoring charts this season and has shown every bit of the finishing ability he has been renowned for. ATK did not have the greatest of matches and got lucky with both their goals but when someone was needed to take advantage of those situations, he stood up to be counted. Kamaljit Singh had no chance with the penalty and the equaliser with hardly any time left on the clock was even more impressive. Yes, the goalkeeper had come charging off his line to get to the ball, but we have seen the dinked finish going horrendously bad time and again in this league. With the Fijian somehow, we knew that the ball was going to find the back of the net, and it did.
FC Goa 3 – Odisha FC 0
9) Gaurs Go Top With Win
Goa won a third game on the bounce to go top of the table at the halfway point of the season. With Coro back in the fray, the Gaurs look transformed and the Spaniard is second on the goal-scoring chart with six goals in as many games. His absence for three games took a lot out of the side, arguably more than any of their other foreign players, including Ahmed Jahouh. The home side cruised to victory even if the game was in the balance until the 85th minute when Brandon Fernades’ shot squirmed past Arshdeep Singh into the goal. With the likes of Edu Bedia to call upon from the bench when needed, the Super Cup holders are in pole position for the trophy they desperately want going into the business end of the season.
10) Odisha A Poor Man’s Goa
This game highlighted the differences between two teams who employ the same philosophy in most facets of the game. They both play attacking football with a preference for controlling the ball. Both franchises have an admirable commitment to let young Indian players come through the ranks and have invested heavily in their development. The difference has been in results and nowhere was it starker than in the free header Aridane Santana missed seconds before Coro opened the scoring. It has been a case of ‘so close yet so far’ for Josep Gombau’s men for two seasons now and that is the reason why Goa are top and Odisha are seventh. In top-flight football, the fine margins make all the difference.