SC East Bengal 1 – Hyderabad FC 1
1) Enobakhare Enjoys Space In Behind
Bright Enobakhare has not had this much space to work with since he announced his arrival in the league with goals against Odisha and Goa. He had not scored in seven games since as opponents double-teamed him whenever he got the ball. No other player probably has been kicked as much as the Nigerian with his treatment at the hands of defenders a particularly sore point for Robbie Fowler’s coaching staff. Against Hyderabad, a team that likes to play some attractive football, he got a lot more space to play with than he normally does. On a breakaway, it resulted in a goal as Anthony Pilkington cushioned a header perfectly for Enobakhare to run onto from within his own half. He should have had a penalty later as Laxmikant Kattimani hacked him down in full flight, with East Bengal justifiably unhappy, but he would have enjoyed this game a lot more than the ones preceding it.
2) Late Show From Hyderabad Again
Coming into this game, the Nizams had scored six goals in the last fifteen minutes of matches this season and they conjured yet another one to break East Bengal hearts. With a lion’s share of possession and chances, they probably merited that equalizer. Both teams had a definitive penalty shout turned down and with those cancelling each other out, there cannot be too many complaints about the result. Hyderabad kept their unbeaten run going but the spate of draws may come back to haunt them as they failed to take three points from a team playing only for pride. It must have been reassuring for them to see Aridane Santana on the scoresheet again though. He is hitting goalscoring form again after a dry spell and his interventions may be needed for this young, impressive squad to make the playoffs for the first time.
Chennaiyin FC 2 – FC Goa 2
3) Marina Machans Out Of Play-Off Contention
Chennaiyin desperately needed a win to stand an outside chance of making the playoffs. They looked on their way until Ishan Pandita produced his latest last-ditch intervention to salvage a point for the Gaurs. A lot of their woes this season can be attributed to a lack of goals with frontman, Jakub Sylvestr, just not producing the numbers required to sustain a challenge. He scored for the first time in more than two months to put Chennaiyin 1-0 ahead but a return of two goals in a campaign is not anywhere near enough. Nerijus Valskis has been hugely missed and the Machans will have to invest in a good striker next year to compete with the likes of Mumbai, Goa and ATK Mohun Bagan.
4) Fixture Produces Inevitable Bad Blood
When Chennaiyin play Goa, there’s something always brewing in the background. The football is often spectacular but there is also the chance of a fracas erupting. After getting through the best part of ninety-five minutes without disturbance, Edu Bedia decided to take matters into his own hands by biting Deepak Tangri on the chest. He may have not liked the player hauling him to the ground in a challenge, but the response was extraordinary and the Goan captain could now miss the rest of the season through suspension, if found guilty. The incident overshadowed Pandita’s heroic effort and also possibly deflected from another poor performance in goal by Dheeraj Singh. He was guilty again of making a mess of a cross, allowing Lallianzuala Chhangte the easiest of finishes. Mohammad Nawaz has been frozen out of the squad since contract negotiations broke down but found a place on the bench against Chennaiyin. Juan Ferrando may just start him against Odisha.
NorthEast United 3 – Odisha FC 1
5) Stunning First Half Drives Highlanders Forward
This game was decided within the first twenty-five minutes as NorthEast United drove at the Odisha backline with devastating precision. The interplay between Khalid Jamil’s players was something to behold in that initial period with Federico Gallego pulling the strings. Luís Machado and Deshorn Brown were the beneficiaries with the Portuguese player picking up a brace in the process. The Highlanders then closed the game out in the second half though Gurjinder Kumar dampened the mood somewhat by picking up a red card in the closing minutes. This result puts NorthEast in a good position and with three fixtures to come against teams with nothing to play for, they will fancy their chances of making the playoffs come the end of the regular season.
6) Juggernauts Heading Towards Last-Place Finish
With only one win in seventeen, Odisha can only look at avoiding the wooden spoon with an incredible spurt of form over their last three fixtures. With those coming up against Goa, Mumbai and a rejuvenated East Bengal, that is not likely to happen. An inquest will no doubt be held at the end of the season as a squad that had developed sufficiently under Josep Gombau over the past few years find themselves back at square one. They were never really at the races against NorthEast and while it is admirable that they have not thrown in the towel in recent games, the lack of quality is discernible. Young Indian players who had seemed to take the step up to this level last season have regressed and that would be the worrying factor, if one were an Odisha supporter.
ATK Mohun Bagan 1 – Jamshedpur FC 0
7) Mariners Go Top
ATK Mohun Bagan climbed back to the top of the table by winning yet again in their patented way. They carried more threat than their opponents, who have struggled in front of goal all season, but the game was meandering towards a 0-0 score line before Roy Krishna used the telepathic understanding he has struck with David Williams to find himself a yard of space just inside the box. The ball was hit early, catching both Peter Hartley and Rehenesh TP a tad off-guard. As ever, his intervention closed out the game and with four straight wins, the Mariners go into the all-important Kolkata derby in great mood. Those fixtures are rarely predictable and with Robbie Fowler and team knowing that three points could make heroes of them, however the rest of the season has gone, a tantalizing prospect lies in wait.
8) Miners All But Out
Owen Coyle sprung a surprise by leaving Nerijus Valskis on the bench. Given that he had not scored in six matches, that may have made sense in many ways, but the Lithuanian had also contributed 50% of all goals scored by Jamshedpur this season. David Grande started up front instead with William Lalnunfela playing behind him. It did not have the desired effect. Valskis came on an hour into the game and immediately made a difference. His eightieth-minute header almost gave Jamshedpur the lead with Arindam Bhattacharya needing to produce a sprawling effort to keep the ball out of the goal. It is anyone’s guess how the result would have panned out if Valskis had started, but this result has all but put Jamshedpur out of the reckoning.
Mumbai City FC 2 – Bengaluru FC 4
9) Islanders Play Their Part In Thriller
Having seen their title rivals go above them in the table the previous night, Mumbai were handed a tough test against previous champions, Bengaluru. They did not start off well as Cleiton Silva scored the fastest goal of the season within the first minute. They conceded another soon after as the Blues brought out all the set-piece routines in their repertoire. Down 0-2 at half-time, the Islanders poured men forward in the second half and Adam Le Fondre provided a masterclass in finishing with two very well taken goals. These weren’t goals that restored parity though and Sergio Lobera’s men conceded two more goals before the finish. Mumbai led all the stats except the one that mattered but for the viewer, this fixture offered the very best that Indian football can offer.
10) Chhetri Rises To The Occasion
This has been an extremely difficult season for Sunil Chhetri. Unaccustomed to failure, he has visibly been pained by the results that have been churned out on a weekly basis. A big occasion brings the best out of the talismanic figure though, and he celebrated his 200th appearance in a Bengaluru shirt by doing what he does best. Stick the ball in the back of the net. A poignant moment followed his second goal as he jumped the advertising hoardings and leapt into the arms of Kunaal Majgaonkar, the media manager at the club, who has been beside him during his tenure at the club. It was the release he needed after a trying time and Bengaluru have now given themselves an outside chance of making the playoffs. They will need results to go their way but a win against Goa next week will help plenty.
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