Hyderabad FC 0 – NorthEast United 0
1)Unbeaten Stretch Extends For Nizams
Except for a period of eleven days in December, Hyderabad have had an unbeaten season. They started off with two wins and three draws before losses against Mumbai, Kerala and Goa dampened their mood. If people were expecting their performances to fall off a cliff though, they were in for some disappointment. The Nizams have played eight games this year and have not lost a single one of them. This has put them in a strong, if not ideal, position in the table. Their young players looked comfortable on the ball again, as they have all season, but Manuel Marquez Roca’s wards lacked an edge in the final third against the Highlanders. They took the point that was on offer and will look to do more damage against their next opponent in East Bengal.
2) Lalengmawia Continues Impressive Development
Lalengmawia, also named Apuia, made news earlier in the season when he became the youngest player to captain a side in the ISL. He has a very good head on his shoulders and the Mizo player, who broke through last season with impressive performances, has continued to develop in a good way. With Khassa Camara out through suspension, he had to take additional responsibility in the middle of the park and put in a man-of-the-match display. If there is one area where he could do better, it is in the end product. He does not have an assist or goal in the competition yet, and really should have done better with a header against Hyderabad. A Luís Machado cutback found him in a good position, but his effort wasn’t powerful enough to beat the keeper. Nonetheless, the Highlanders have a player who will contribute immensely to Indian football in the years to come.
Mumbai City FC 3 – FC Goa 3
3) Islanders Leave The Door Open For Mariners
Mumbai squandered the opportunity to go six points clear of ATK Mohun Bagan as they conceded a 96thminute equalizer against the Gaurs. In a topsy-turvy encounter, the Islanders quickly raced to a 2-0 lead and looked in total control before Goa halved the deficit on the stroke of halftime. Once they conceded a second minutes after the restart, Sergio Lobera’s men poured forward in search of the winner. They reaped the rewards for their pressure when Rowllin Borges tucked in a ninetieth minute freekick after missing a couple of glorious chances. A late twist was yet to arrive though, and a shell-shocked Mumbai saw Hugo Boumous sent off at the final whistle to compound their problems.
4) Martins Scores With A Screamer
There is a heart-warming story shared in Goan football circles about Glan Martins. The twenty-six-year-old, who came through the Sesa Football Academy before being recruited by Sporting Clube De Goa, has been spoken about as a prospective ISL player for a long time. The person who believed it more than others was Peter Vaz, the owner of the club. Even though Martins was his player, Vaz thought that the youngster would prosper in the big time. His move to ATK Mohun Bagan via Churchill Brothers before the start of this season reinforced that belief. Unfortunately, Vaz passed away in December after being infected by the COVID virus. He did get an opportunity to see Martins don the Mariners jersey though and while things did not work out at the Kolkata outfit, it was fitting that the Goan player would hammer in the goal of the season a few kilometers away from the place of his birth. Peter Vaz would have approved.
Bengaluru FC 0 – ATK Mohun Bagan 2
5) End Of The Road For The Blues?
Bengaluru came into this fixture on a four-game unbeaten run, but there had only been one victory in that period. More importantly, it had been the only win in ten games, and that provides a better indicator of where this team is at currently. If this were the Blues of old, we would be expecting the turnaround to pick up steam around now, but this is not the Blues of old. This disjointed, creaking version is a pale imitation of the act that preceded it. When Sunil Chhetri acts petulantly, it means that things are not going his way, and he has been losing his rag a lot more than usual this season. His team were never in this game, and the result was hardly ever in doubt. A must-win game against Mumbai awaits Bengaluru next but the Mariners may have already hammered in the final nail in the coffin.
6) Habas Maintains Record Against Bengaluru
Antonio López Habas has a good record against most teams in the league but his hold over the Blues is particularly impressive. Coming into this game, he had won three out of five meetings, with the sole loss coming in the first leg of last season’s semifinal. ATK eventually prevailed of course, before beating Chennaiyin in the final. Sensing an opportunity against a team down in the dumps, his players never took their foot off the accelerator and dominated the game right from the off. The Mariners did not even wait till the second half to score, as they are wont to do. Roy Krishna kicked things off with a penalty before Marcelinho curled in a delightful freekick to extend an impressive start at his new club. No one is talking about it yet but ATK Mohun Bagan’s final fixture of the regular season against Mumbai will most probably decide the League Winner’s Shield.
Chennaiyin FC 0 – Jamshedpur FC 1
7) No Miracle For Chennaiyin
How things have turned for the Marina Machans since these two teams met in the first week of the competition. Chennaiyin looked so good in dispatching their previous manager’s new team, with Anirudh Thapa scoring a beautiful goal in the process. Csaba László’s squad showed so much promise in that early fixture. Unfortunately for him and the club’s supporters, they have meandered along aimlessly since. The scoring of goals has been their biggest problem, as it has been for their opponent too of late, and a dull game was heading towards a drab end when an unfortunate deflection off Enes Sipović caught Vishal Kaith cold in the 90th minute. The response of the players and coach at full-time hinted at a team that were resigned to their fate.
8) Miners Handed Lifeline
When Thoi Singh was played in on goal for Chennaiyin in the 89th minute, Owen Coyle must have thought that his team’s season was over. The player inexplicably sought to square the ball with the goal gaping and a minute later Jamshedpur had their goal. They barely merited it on the balance of play, but Coyle wasn’t complaining. The three points gave his team hope, however slim that might be, and they leapfrogged Bengaluru in the table. Two of their remaining three fixtures are against the best two teams in the competition though, and that does not augur well for the Red Miners. If they play anything like they did against Chennaiyin, they might as well pack up their bags and go home. The Irishman has a task on his hands and will have to call upon his miracles playbook from last season to turn this situation around.
Odisha FC 2 – Kerala Blasters 2
9) Two Worst Defences Put On An Exhibition
No two teams have conceded more than the twenty-seven and twenty-nine goals Odisha and Kerala have shipped respectively. In fact, no one even comes close. This game demonstrated why this was the case as end-to-end action throughout the ninety minutes somehow only brought four goals. The Juggernauts were more porous than their opponents but a combination of poor finishing from the Blasters and a couple of fine saves by Arshdeep allowed them to go home with a point. In attack, Diego Mauricio had one of his better days as he combined well with new boy, Bradden Inman. His brace took him to nine goals for the season and he joined Aridane Santana as the all-time highest goal scorer for the relatively new franchise.
10) Kerala Should Stick With Vicuña
Earlier this season, Kibu Vicuña compared his team to Goa, claiming that both teams play on the front foot and aim to please observers with their brand of football. The Blasters certainly lived up to that against Odisha, attempting a mind-boggling twenty-nine shots in the game. Kerala have been extremely pleasing on the eye in recent weeks, especially after they abandoned their philosophy of playing out from the back. Given that most fans have wanted a team that plays attractive football for a long time now, the management could do worse than extend Vicuña’s contract. Yes, they have leaked a bucketful of goals, but if he could plug the gaps at the back, there is a core of good players at the club now. Rahul KP and Sahal Abdul Samad have improved immeasurably this season and some of the credit must go to the coach. If most of their foreign players can be convinced to stay at the club as well, the Blasters may be on to a good thing next season.
Image Credit – Official Indian Super League Twitter Page