Bengaluru FC 0 – Jamshedpur FC 1
1) Wangjam Making Himself Indispensable
Suresh Wangjam’s absence was keenly felt in the first half against ATK Mohun Bagan. Carles Cuadrat made sure that the Manipuri U-17 World Cup star was in from the start this time around and he was at the heart of all things good for the Blues. His runs from midfield created all sorts of problems for the Red Miners in the first half and if a couple of his passes were only slightly better, Sunil Chhetri and Cleiton Silva would both have been on the scoreboard. He did put another chance on a platter for the captain, but that opportunity was spurned. At this level, the mistakes have a habit of catching up on teams and Bengaluru suffered a rare consecutive defeat. In Wangjam though, they have a player who has improved in leaps and bounds over the past year. He is probably the first name on the team sheet right now.
2) Defensive Improvement Propelling Miners Forward
Since conceding four goals in their first two fixtures, Jamshedpur have tightened up at the back and the net has only bulged five times since. Over a run of seven games, that is the best record for anyone who is not Mumbai or ATK Mohun Bagan. Unsurprisingly, that solidity has taken Owen Coyle’s men up the table. In Rehenesh Paramba, Stephen Eze and Peter Hartley, the Miners have players who are currently at the top of their game and their heroics have allowed a team that does not score too many goals to eke out points. The Nigerian, Eze, has become a focal point at set pieces and his aerial prowess was used to good effect for the second game in a row. It was the first of his three goals this season which contributed to a win and he was suitably delighted.
Chennaiyin FC 0 – ATK Mohun Bagan 0
3) Crivellaro Injury Concern
Rafael Crivellaro is the most influential player in the Chennaiyin team and even though he is making a habit of missing good chances, it was a shame to see him hobbling off the field. Following a tackle from Pronay Halder, he left the pitch midway through the second half and had to watch the rest of the game with ice strapped to his ankle. The Machans will be hoping that the injury isn’t serious because they are fast approaching the stage of the season when their habit of drawing games could prematurely end playoff hopes. Chennaiyin had their inevitable double-digit haul of shots on goal. Their attacking players were not as much to blame for missed chances as they were in previous games though. They found a goalkeeper in inspired form.
4) Bhattacharya Reproduces Form From 2020 Final
Chennaiyin must hate the sight of Arindam Bhattacharya. A few months on from an ISL final where he produced save after save when the Machans were chasing goals, he turned in another masterclass to deny them yet again. A couple of his fingertip efforts from Lallianzuala Chhangte and Reagan Singh shots were breathtaking, and he proved to be the difference between the two sides. The Mariners were denied a penalty in the first half when Singh seemed to have brought down David Williams and Roy Krishna inexplicably missed a free header in the second but Antonio López Habas would not have been too unhappy with the result. When the other team has seven times more shots on target than yours, a point represents a decent day at the office.
Hyderabad FC 1 – FC Goa 2
5) Roca Takes Responsibility For Defeat
Manuel Roca publicly took the blame for defeat against the Gaurs after claiming his substitution of the excellent Holicharan Narzary cost his team a point. Abhishek Halder came on in the 89th minute as Roca rejigged his formation from 4-2-3-1 to a 4-2-2. The ball was lost in midfield and Alberto Noguera’s ball found Igor Angulo in acres of space. The Spaniard finished and Hyderabad lost a game they were winning till the 87th minute. The Nizams controlled the game for long stretches and this was a performance that was a marked improvement on the showing against Kerala. It is a shame that they could not hold on for a result their display merited and the slide down the table continues after a third defeat in a row.
6) Pandita Makes Immediate Impact
Ishan Pandita has been spoken of in Indian football circles since he became the first domestic player to sign a professional contract with a La Liga side in 2016. He represented CD Leganes at the U-19 level and now has made his way back home to represent the Gaurs. With Angulo pumping in the goals regularly, he has had to be patient and playing time has been hard to come by. He came on in the dying minutes against NorthEast United in November, but exactly a month later, produced a great header just seconds after coming on to get the Gaurs back into the game. It was lovely ball into the box from Edu Bedia and Pandita made space to flick a back-header into the far corner. With fresh impetus following that goal, Goa scored yet another late winner and moved back into the playoff places.
Mumbai City FC 2 – Kerala Blasters 0
7) Islanders Slightly Lucky To Take Three Points
This was by no means an easy fixture for Sergio Lobera’s men. They were two goals up within eleven minutes, but Kerala contributed to that with avoidable mistakes. What followed was an examination of their title winning credentials as a spirited side tried constantly to breach Amrinder Singh’s goal. The goalkeeper was possibly the difference in the end as he denied Sahal Abdul Samad twice while also producing a brilliant fingertip save onto the bar from Vicente Gómez’s effort. A couple of penalties were won, one of which was dispatched a bit nervously by Adam Le Fondre. In between those, Ahmed Jahouh produced a long ball that travelled more than 70 meters before being met by Hugo Boumous and ended in the net. Those two moments decided the game in the end.
8) Spirited Kerala Show Great Heart
Kibu Vicuña made a statement in the previous game against Hyderabad by dropping a few of his foreign players. His squad responded with an energetic performance as they registered their first win of the season and they continued in a similar vein against Mumbai. Abdul Hakku must have been disappointed at having to make way for Costa Nhamoinesu though after nabbing a goal and a clean sheet against Nizams. That feeling was probably reinforced when the Zimbabwean conceded a penalty as early as the second minute. The other centre-back in Sandeep Singh inexplicably ducked under Jahouh’s long pass for the second goal and conceded the other penalty. While it was not a great night for these two players, Kerala kept going at the other end as nineteen attempts on goal will testify to. Their playoff hopes will rest on these performances being recreated on a constant basis.
SC East Bengal 3 – Odisha FC 1
9) A Win At Long Last
East Bengal won a game at their eighth attempt, the longest it has ever taken any franchise to get off the mark. It beat the five matches it took Goa in the inaugural edition. It was just reward for a recent uptick in form. The Red-And-Gold Brigade are unbeaten in three and after fighting back to draw against Chennaiyin in their last fixture, went the full distance this time around. Anthony Pilkington has improved in recent outings and he opened proceedings with his first goal in the competition. Jacques Maghoma scored a fine individual goal before the break and debutant, Bright Enobakhare, made his manager happy by getting on the act before the final whistle. East Bengal are looking for players who can come in and add value immediately and, in the Nigerian, they may have one who could turn their fortunes around.
10) Juggernauts Stay Rooted To Bottom
The only other team seeking a win this season will have to wait for another time. When that day will come, nobody is none the wiser about. Odisha had a tough run of games in December against the bigger teams where they did not pick up a single point. Stuart Baxter would have been hoping to go on a run once the fixtures turned but after securing a draw against the Highlanders, have come crashing back right to earth. A match against fellow strugglers provided a great opportunity but the franchise are struggling at both ends of the pitch. They have conceded fourteen and scored only six goals; the worst in the league on both parameters. If things don’t improve soon, a bottom-placed finish beckons.
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