FC Goa 4 – Hyderabad FC 1
1) Lobera Bombshell Overshadows Proceedings
Talk of Sergio Lobera’s sacking dominated conversation in Indian footballing circles leading upto this game. The club were on top of the table when he was relieved of his duties and there had been little in the media to suggest that things weren’t well in the Goa camp. Clifford Miranda took charge on an interim basis but as captain, Mandar Rao Dessai suggested later, the performance had the Spaniard’s stamp all over it. The Gaurs are the most watchable team in the ISL and this display ticked all the right boxes. Hugo Boumous’ impressive season continued with two well-taken goals and he even provided a delicious assist to Coro for the team’s third. In a nod to their departed manager, Goa even managed to concede the inevitable goal and a clean-sheet was averted. The hosts became the first side to qualify for the playoffs but only time will tell if the management made the right decision.
2) Hyderabad Needs To Plan Beyond Marcelinho
The Brazilian scored with a brilliantly struck free-kick, providing yet another glimpse of his wonderful ability, but Albert Roca would do well to build a squad without him next season. Until he got on the scoreboard, there were regular pops at goal when team-mates were better positioned. While that is understandable when creativity is at a premium elsewhere in the squad, Marcelinho has been singing from a different hymn sheet to everyone else for a couple of seasons now. His maverick behaviour was a liability last season at Pune and it has definitely been a case of diminishing returns from him over his three years in India. The player who set the league alight in 2017-18 has disappeared and if he cannot dip into the same pool again, Hyderabad should not persist with him.
Mumbai City FC 2 – Jamshedpur FC 1
3) Bidyananda Gets His Moment In The Sun
Bidyananda Singh was earmarked as a huge emerging talent a few years ago after stints at Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the AIFF Elite Academy. ATK signed the then teenager in 2016 and he played 283 minutes in a title-winning campaign for José Francisco Molina’s men. He then signed for Bengaluru but was mainly consigned to the reserves for two years, disappearing from the public eye. The Islanders signed him at the beginning of this season and he has begun to find his feet yet again, finding minutes off the bench. He came on for a disappointing Sourav Das at halftime against the Miners and scored what could be a season defining goal for Mumbai in the 92nd minute. It was a nice moment for a player who could yet develop into a top-class midfielder in the years to come.
4) Youngster Mandi Ruthlessly Exposed
Sandip Mandi has had a tough start to his ISL career. A few days after his mistake allowed ATK to take control of proceedings in Jamshedpur, the 17-year old was identified by Mumbai as a weak link at left-back and repeatedly targeted. In the first half, it was Raynier Fernades who took him on and Jorge Costa took it a step further by switching Diego Carlos to his flank in the second. Time and again, he was left for dead as the Brazilian turned him inside out and whipped balls into the box. The two goals that Mumbai scored did not come about from any error he made, but this must have been a chastening exercise for the youngster. It will hold him in good stead though and he will learn from the minutes being afforded to him at the moment.
NorthEast United 0 – Kerala Blasters 0
5) Lalengmawia Bright Spark Yet Again
It was the first stalemate in the league for more than two months and there were no surprises regarding the identity of the two protagonists. It was a snooze fest, especially in the first half and the lack of quality in both sides showed yet again. For NorthEast, at least there was yet another solid performance from Lalengmawia. The former Indian Arrows player has been one of the few positives to emerge from a disappointing season and he played the role of a defensive screen in front of the backline admirably well. Only two teams have conceded fewer than the eighteen goals the Highlanders have shipped this season and the teenager has more than played his part in that. It is at the other end that the team’s problems lie and it will remain that way for the foreseeable future.
6) Lobera Threat Hangs Over Schattorie
Lobera’s sacking at Goa immediately alerted other clubs to his availability, with Kerala and Jamshedpur apparently showing interest in the Spaniard. Eelco Schattorie would probably have wanted a better showing from his wards to prove that he was still the best man for the job, but that was not to come. Much has been made of the injury-hit season that the Blasters are having but the truth is that there has not been enough shown on the pitch to convince onlookers that a revolution is underway at the club. This was a laboured performance, with the team struggling to get out of first gear. In Messi Bouli’s absence, Sahal Abdul Samad was given a roaming role behind Bartholomew Ogbeche, to no avail. With attractive football still the primary mandate at this club, it would surprise no one if Lobera were on the sidelines come next season.
ATK 3 – Odisha FC 1
7) Krishna Takes Plaudits Yet Again
This was a game decided by a breath-taking performance from the Fijian striker, Roy Krishna. After dealing in braces for a while, he finally had a hat-trick to show for his efforts, and what a hat-trick it was. His class showed with all three goals and he conjured brilliant finishes almost out of nothing. The opposition manager, Josep Gombau, highlighted the amount of money that the top three teams in the table have spent and while that is a valid point, Krishna showed what one could get if the available funds are spent wisely. He moved up to the top of the goal-scorers chart and with five goals already in February, he has well and truly put the January blues behind him.
8) Brave Campaign Petering Out For Odisha
After looking in great shape by the middle of last month, it has all come crashing down on Odisha. Three losses in a row against the top teams have shown up the slight gap in quality between these sides. The loss of Aridane Santana to injury came at the worst possible time and while Manuel Onwu has filled in capably, the former’s understanding with Xisco Hernández has been missed as much as his goals. Odisha looked easy on the eye yet again and more than held their own in the first half, but had no answers to Krishna in the second. It has been a promising season for Gombau’s men, but a playoff spot looks beyond them now.
Chennaiyin FC 0 – Bengaluru FC 0
9) Machans Backing Themselves To Win Results Lottery
For a team that does not have its fate in its own hands anymore, Chennaiyin’s players seemed to be in fairly celebratory mood after the final whistle. They are now four points behind Mumbai in fourth, who have played a game more. With the Islanders scheduled to play Goa away in their next fixture, Chennaiyin are hoping they will slip up at the Fatorda. It bears noting that Chennaiyin have to play high flying ATK themselves in their next fixture. The Machans then travel to the Mumbai Football Arena and as I mentioned last week, that could be the game that decides fourth place. The ace in the pack for Chennaiyin is the rescheduled fixture in Guwahati, which will be the last game of the regular season. If they are still trailing Mumbai in the table going into that game, they will hope that a win there will seal a playoff spot. There are a lot of variables at play though and they may come to view this draw at home against Bengaluru negatively come the end of the season.
10) Midweek Exertions Take A Toll On Blues
Bengaluru travelled to Bhutan in the middle of the week to fulfil AFC Cup commitments and their exertions in Thimphu caught up with the side. Even though only four players started both fixtures, the Blues looked laboured in possession and struggled to break down Chennaiyin’s defence. They did get a glorious chance in the closing stages but Thongkhosiem Haokip hit the post when played in by Juanan. He may have gotten the winner in Bhutan but the ISL has been a struggle for the Manipuri forward. Sunil Chhetri picked up a yellow card after the game for an unnecessary argument with the referee and will miss the next fixture against Kerala. Just as well since the Blues seem to have made their peace with a third-placed finish this season.
NorthEast United 3 – Jamshedpur FC 3
11) Double Figures At Long Last
It took them fifteen matches but the Highlanders finally scored their tenth goal of the campaign. It was Federico Gallego who got on the scoresheet after Andy Keogh’s shot was saved and the captain seemed relieved to finally get his first of the season. With nothing to play for, Robert Jarni’s team played with more freedom than usual with their youngsters standing up to be counted yet again. With Keogh and Gallego dropping deep to receive the ball, Ninthoinganba Meetei and Redeem Tlang had space on the flanks to exploit and it was the former who set up the first goal while the latter scored the second. Mislav Komorski had to come off in the 18th minute with a hamstring injury and that cost NorthEast at the back. If he had been on the pitch, it is possible that the Miners would not have gotten three on the board.
12) Another Forward Fills In At Full-Back
It has been all downhill for Sumeet Passi since making India’s squad for the AFC Asian Cup in January 2019. He has since lost his place in the national squad and is yet to score in this edition of the ISL. Antonio Iriondo decided to do what a lot of his colleagues have been doing of late and started the forward at right-back against the Highlanders. His natural work-rate held him in good stead but there were instances where he struggled, which is understandable. Overall, it was an impressive showing given his unfamiliarity with the position. His substitution immediately created space for NorthEast’s second goal and this may be an experiment Iriondo might stick with. With goals hard to come by, the player may have to think long and hard about his future.