ATK Mohun Bagan 2 – NorthEast United 0
1) One Shot, One Goal
The Mariners produced another display of ruthless efficiency to dispatch their rivals from the North-East. No one epitomized this more than their talismanic striker, Roy Krishna, who worked tirelessly all night for his one attempt on goal. As he is wont to do, the effort was guided into the back of the net. In a game of very little quality, ATK Mohun Bagan did just about enough to seal their points. They are yet to score more than two goals this season and this was the only time since their victory in the Kolkata derby in November. Most importantly though, they have only conceded two goals once. Defensive solidity is the bedrock on which this team produce their attacks and it has paid off for the best part of two seasons now. Their next fixture against Mumbai could very well tell us who the champions will be this year. The clash of philosophies will make for spectacular viewing.
2) Highlanders Challenge Petering Out
A lot has happened since NorthEast United played last. When they drew 2-2 against Odisha, they were still in the top four. But after resuming battle after a twelve-day hiatus, the longest of any side during the festive period, they have quickly fallen down the table. It has been coming. After an impressive start to the season, the Highlanders have lost two of their last three fixtures. They have been their only defeats of the season but a propensity for draws means that other teams have been able to catch up with them. With Kwesi Appiah injured, the onus fell on Idrissa Sylla to produce the goals against the champions. He extended his barren run to six matches and handed Gerard Nus a big dilemma in the process. There is a dependence on penalties and set pieces for goals and that is not sustainable.
Chennaiyin FC 1 – Hyderabad FC 4
3) Jekyll And Hyde Performance From Kaith
Vishal Kaith played a big role in ensuring that Hyderabad went goalless into the break with a couple of good saves. He flipped that on its head in the second half though by inexplicably flying off his line when he didn’t have to; in the process allowing the Nizams to take the lead. It was a wildly fluctuating performance overall and for a player who holds national team aspirations, something he would want to cut out of his game. His counterpart at the other end experienced these vagaries himself and it possibly was just one of those days for goalkeepers. The Machans’ goal threat worries continue with Anirudh Thapa lucky to get on the scoresheet after a gift from Laxmikant Kattimani. There are plenty of touches in the box but hardly anyone yet who can be counted upon to stick the ball in the back of the net.
4) Chianese Takes Load Off Aridane
Hyderabad have been waiting on some of their foreign recruits to get fit. Joel Chianese came into the fold in the stalemate against Bengaluru and got his first goal in comedic circumstances. He contrived to miss umpteen opportunities in the first half when he really should have had a hattrick before taking advantage of a mix up between Kaith and Eli Sabiá. Manuel Marquez must have been happy to see the Australian link up well with Aridane Santana and it augurs well for the team that he has gotten into the scoring act. While the performances of the young Indian players have pleased everyone, goalscoring has not been a forte for them. Chianese’s exploits in the A-League will come in handy.
Bengaluru FC 1 – Mumbai City FC 3
5) Rare Strife At Bengaluru
The Blues are in trouble. They have now lost three ISL games in a row for the first time. More worryingly, in the first half against Mumbai, they were played off the park in a manner that has probably not been seen before. Bengaluru have made a habit of starting slow in the league before hitting their stride as the business end of the tournament approaches. This time around though, there seem to be structural issues at play which victories over Odisha and Kerala seem to have papered over. It must have worried the owners sufficiently enough because Carles Cuadrat became the first Blues manager to exit the club mid-season. Naushad Moosa, the club’s reserve team manager, will take over in the interim as a replacement is sounded out.
6) Lobera Finally Wins Against Cuadrat
Four defeats and one draw. That had been Sergio Lobera’s record against Cuadrat in the ISL matches they had contested as managers of Goa and Bengaluru. It took Lobera only one game in charge of Mumbai to redress the balance in their head-to-head count. While that might partly have to with a Bengaluru squad seemly in decline, the depth of talent available at Mumbai is more likely to be the reason. The score line flattered the Blues. They did not deserve the penalty that was awarded to them and the Islanders had taken their foot off the pedal midway through the second half. The only sour note of the night for Lobera was in Ahmed Jahouh picking up a red card for an unnecessary challenge after the game was won. His players may very well be champions-in-waiting.
SC East Bengal 1 – FC Goa 1
7) New Signing Proves To Be ‘Bright’ Spark
Bright Enobakhare hinted at improving East Bengal’s fortunes in his debut against Odisha when he grabbed a goal in a brief cameo. Nothing he showed then prepared onlookers for what was to come next though. With the Red-And-Gold Brigade trying to see off the game after Danny Fox’s dismissal, the Nigerian conjured a goal reminiscent of a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s effort for Ajax in 2004. Jacques Maghoma flicked a ball over his shoulder onto Bright’s path and the forward began a slaloming run past four defenders before tucking the ball into the far corner. It was one of the best goals ever scored in the league and it was no wonder that Robbie Fowler was beside himself in delight. It was an effort he would have been proud of himself.
8) Gaurs Do Not Make Man Advantage Count
When Danny Fox was sent off for a clumsy tackle against Alexander Jesuraj before the hour mark, Goa would have expected to take control of this fixture. It did not quite pan out that way. East Bengal invited a couple of yellow cards for delaying tactics, but the Gaurs did not really carve out any clear-cut chances. If anything, Robbie Fowler’s men had the better opportunities to score throughout the game. It needed a header from a young Goan substitute to salvage a point in the end. Immediately from kickoff after Enobakhare’s wonder goal, Saviour Gama took advantage of lackadaisical organization to whip in a cross that Devendra Dhaku Murgaokar got to the end of. The ex-Salgaocar forward had been pumping in the goals in the Goa Professional League and he had his first at the highest level.
Kerala Blasters 2 – Odisha FC 4
9) Blasters Fail To Build On Momentum
The last time these two teams faced each other, we were treated to an eight-goal thriller with Bartholomew Ogbeche grabbing a couple of late goals to salvage a point for the Blasters. There was sadly to be no repeat of that even though Kerala had quite a few chances to do score in the dying minutes. Gary Hooper’s goal, his first from open play this year, set up a barnstorming finish but the lack of genuine quality that has hamstrung Kibu Vicuña’s side this year reared its head yet again. Even though they had lost to Mumbai in their last fixture, the Blasters had shown tremendous spirit over past two weeks. This should have been a winnable game on paper, coming as it did against the bottom-placed team in the league, but Odisha were good value for their points. It is difficult to see where Kerala go from here.
10) Baxter’s Men Come Good
Odisha have spluttered through their worst ever start to an ISL season with only two points to show for their efforts until this game. To compound their problems, the man who scored a hattrick in that 4-4 game last February got injured and had to watch from the stands. With Manuel Onwu unavailable, the onus lay on Diego Mauricio to come to the party and that is exactly what he did. He scored two goals and played a big role in a third as Odisha upped their offensive game for the first time this season. There could have been more too. Both sides had nineteen shots on goal each, but Stuart Baxter’s players probably carried the greater threat. The only side in the competition without a win has one now and perhaps they can kick on.
Image Credit – Indian Super League Official Twitter Page