Mumbai City FC 1 – NorthEast United 2
1)Islanders Fail To Create New Record
Across two seasons in 2014 and 2015, Zico’s FC Goa side went twelve games unbeaten. Sandwiched in between was a fixture that knocked the Gaurs out of the semifinals of season one but since the result was decided by a penalty shootout, it did not count as a loss according to FIFA regulations. This year, Mumbai have matched that squad every step of the way and went into this game against the Highlanders with an opportunity to go thirteen unbeaten. Standing in their way though was the only team to have gotten the better of them this season. Sergio Lobera failed to solve the NorthEast puzzle yet again and after threatening to run away with the group winner spot and the associated rewards a few weeks ago, the Islanders have been reined in a bit.
2) Brown Loving It At New Home
Deshorn Brown cut a forlorn figure at Bengaluru. Starved of service, he struggled to make an impact this season and the Blues preferred to keep faith in Kristian Opseth instead of the Jamaican. NorthEast United needed a striker to replace Kwesi Appiah, who is expected to miss the rest of the season with injury, and Brown has stepped in brilliantly. The change of scenery has definitely helped, and he has rewarded Khalid Jamil with three goals in three games. Two early finishes knocked the stuffing out of Mumbai, and he could very well have had a hattrick before being replaced by Idrissa Sylla. Jamil has had a dream start as interim manager. He has masterminded consecutive wins against Jamshedpur, ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai, all strong contenders for the title this season. He must be wondering what all the fuss about foreign managers is about. If the Highlanders manage to do the impossible and go all the way, surely the job is his for the keeping?
Hyderabad FC 2 – Chennaiyin FC 0
3) Hyderabad Reaping Benefits Of Early Season Form
The Nizams went into this season in the worst shape possible. They hardly had any foreign players ready to take the field and were forced to play a clutch of untested Indian youngsters. To their credit, these players delivered and kept Hyderabad in games while playing an exciting brand of football. This allowed them to remain in a midtable position when the inevitable bad times arrived. Now, they have all their overseas signings available and these players have started to deliver. Fran Sandaza scored for the second game running and this has allowed Aridane Santana some breathing space. He is not as prolific as he was last season or at the start of this campaign but when the workload is shared with Sandaza and Joel Chianese, it suits the team better. Manuel Marquez Roca cannot be more delighted with where his squad is at right now.
4) Same Old Story For The Machans
There is nothing that can be said about this Chennaiyin performance that has not been said before. Multiple times. Never before in the league perhaps has a side created so many opportunities to score with as little end product. After conceding the first half to the Nizams, the Machans came storming off the blocks in the second with Lallianzuala Chhangte looking especially threatening after switching to the right flank. They hit the crossbar a couple of times before the inevitable sucker punch arrived late on. Manuel Lanzarote was deemed too unfit to even be on the bench after fourteen days in quarantine. By the time he gets up to speed, the season could have passed Chennaiyin by.
ATK Mohun Bagan 3 – Kerala Blasters 2
5) Mariners In Incredible Comeback
At the hour mark in this game, it looked like ATK Mohun Bagan were completely out of the reckoning. They trailed by two goals and the Blasters were looking well worth the points. A goal then came from the unlikeliest of sources if recent form were to be taken into account. Marcelinho’s transfer from Odisha had befuddled many but the Brazilian started this game and made an immediate impact, racing onto Manvir Singh’s excellent flick on and finishing with aplomb. The Mariners were roused into action and Roy Krishna completed an incredible turnaround with two goals of his own. Antonio López Habas’ side could have remained six points behind Mumbai with six rounds to go if they had lost. Instead, they ended the night hanging onto the Islander’s coattails. The League Winner’s Shield is far from settled.
6) Blasters Waste Excellent Opportunity
After spending most of the season at the bottom end of the league, Kerala had given themselves the opportunity to rise with their performances in recent weeks. Unbeaten in five going into this fixture, they played with verve and confidence for an hour. Gary Hooper had unleashed a long range hit against Jamshedpur which had possibly gone in as it rattled off the crossbar. The television pictures weren’t conclusive then and no one had really appealed for a goal in that game. There was no doubt about a thirty-meter piledriver here as he beat Arindam Bhattacharya all ends up. When Costa Nhamoinesu bundled in the ball in the 51st minute, Kerala had temporarily moved up to the heady heights of sixth place. If they had held on, an excellent pathway to the playoff places would have opened up. As it turned out, they remained ninth and trudged off the park with their spirit in tatters.
Odisha FC 0 – Jamshedpur FC 1
7) Odisha Lose The Midfield Battle
Both teams went into this fixture with 4-4-2 formations. In the central midfield battle that decided the way the game went, Vinit Rai and Paul Ramfangzauva lost out to Alex Lima and Mobashir Rahman. Without Cole Alexander, the Juggernauts struggled to leave an imprint on the match and lost one-on-ones all over the park. They did create a few half-chances, especially in the first half, but the Miners deserved to win this game and the score line flattered Stuart Baxter’s men. Bradden Inman made the journey from ATK Mohun Bagan as Marcelinho went the other way in the transfer window but the Australian struggled in an unfamiliar role on the wings. All in all, it was a day to forget for Odisha. Just one of many like these in an underwhelming season.
8) Doungel Merry-Go-Round Continues
Seiminlen Doungel has been around the ISL circuit for a long time now. Never ever being able to make one place his home, he has donned the shirt at NorthEast United, Delhi Dynamos, Kerala Blasters and FC Goa. These don’t include his stints in the I-League where he played for Bengaluru FC, Shillong Lajong, Pailan Arrows and East Bengal. He was an enterprising presence for Sergio Lobera’s FC Goa side last season, with his enthusiasm boiling over at times. Surplus to requirements this season, he has made his way to Jamshedpur and been thrown into the deep end immediately. Against Odisha, he was a constant nuisance factor on the right wing in a man-of-the-match performance. Doungel and Farukh Choudhary have provided Owen Coyle’s side with fresh impetus in the attacking third after their mid-season moves. Coyle would also be hoping for some goals to lighten the load on Nerijus Valskis.
SC East Bengal 0 – Bengaluru FC 2
9) Red-And-Gold Brigade Slip Out Of Reckoning
Whatever slim hopes East Bengal had of making the playoff spots evaporated as they lost a must-win fixture against the Blues. Yet again, they had all the possession in the world but no threat in and around the box. With Bright Enobakhare getting kicked or marked out of games, the onus falls on others to compensate and East Bengal have not really had that kind of player all season. When Matti Steinmann is your joint top scorer (3) for the season, you are invariably in trouble. For a team that has been put together at the last minute, there has been considerable improvement as the season has progressed and perhaps, the remaining fixtures could be used to prepare for a better run next year.
10) Victory At Long Last For The Blues
Forty-seven days after Bengaluru last won a game of football, they could savour the sweet taste of victory yet again. After coming so close in their last game against Hyderabad, they made sure there weren’t any late hiccups this time around. The Blues closed out the game with aplomb after Cleiton Silva and Parag Srivas had helped put them 2-0 up at halftime. Srivas had seen a wicked deflection off him result in the Nizams’ opener just a few days back, and he experienced the other end of the emotional spectrum when his shot hit the post and ricocheted in off the unfortunate Debjit Majumdar. Bengaluru still have tough fixtures in the horizon, but they are playing a more attractive brand of football now. With their confidence up and Xisco Hernández joining up with the squad, we could possibly see the return of the Bengaluru of old.
Image Credit – Official Indian Super League Twitter Page