Hyderabad FC 4 – Kerala Blasters 0
1)Statement Of Intent From Nizams
Hyderabad’s scarcely believable season continued on the right track with a demolition job on the Blasters. They only got on the scoreboard around the hour mark, but this was a game the Nizams dominate from the off. Calamitous defending from Kerala helped but Fran Sandaza, Aridane Santana and João Victor all filled their boots with goals; in the process widening the gap with a few teams who could threaten their playoff hopes. With tough fixtures against ATK Mohun Bagan and FC Goa to come, the latter of which may decide their fortunes, it bodes well for Manuel Marquez Roca that his impressive squad have not tasted defeat in ten games. On to a good thing, this is not the stage of the season where one would want fortunes to turn.
2) Vicuña Gets The Boot
A week on from their last game and after I had pitched for the Spanish manager to be retained next season, Kibu Vicuña found himself without a job. The Blasters owners continued with their manager-roulette, which has been in place since season one, with Ishfaq Ahmed being handed the reins until the end of the season. Kerala played like a team that did not have a stake on the ground, and the endeavour that was on display over the last few weeks was missing. Their overseas centre-back pairing, who had promised so much in the first game of the season, continued with their disappointing form with both Bakary Koné and Costa Nhamoinesu having howlers at the back. The players will somehow have to get through the last two games of the campaign before yet another cycle begins next season.
FC Goa 3 – Odisha FC 1
3) Bedia-Less Goa Do Just Fine
All the questions leading up to this game was about the impact Edu Bedia’s absence would have on the Gaurs. Not too much as it turned out. Goa finally won a game after six consecutive draws and leading the charge was the rest of the foreign contingent. Princeton Rebello filled in nicely for the Spaniard in midfield while Jorge Ortiz and Alberto Noguera pulled the strings further upfield. Exploiting space behind the inexperienced debutant, Lalhrezuala Sailung, at right-back, they created all sorts of problems on that flank. Yet another Dheeraj Singh error allowed Odisha back into the game after they went 2-0 up, but Iván Garrido pounced on a loose ball in the second half to put the result beyond the Juggernauts. A critical fixture against Bengaluru awaits Juan Ferrando’s team next before the all-important tie against the Nizams.
4) Spirited Odisha Confirm Bottom-Placed Finish
The Juggernauts needed to win all three of their remaining fixtures to stand a chance of overtaking one or more of their immediate neighbours. They lost out in their first attempt itself as the greater quality in the Gaurs camp told in the end. After being second best for a good portion of the first half, Odisha kicked into life after Goa scored twice in the space of a few minutes. Diego Mauricio pulled one back as Dheeraj fluffed his lines on a cross and a couple of opportunities came their way immediately after. They weren’t taken and Goa had breathing room. As Odisha tired in the second half, the fight left them to a certain extent and after Garrido’s intervention, they were left resigned to their fate.
Chennaiyin FC 3 – NorthEast United 3
5) Chhangte Ruthless For Once
Before this game kicked off, a handle on Twitter showed Chennaiyin to be the team that has underperformed the most on expected goals (xG) this season. They had scored a whopping sixteen goals fewer than what had been expected from the chances they created. Even for someone without a rudimentary understanding of the measure, this would have made sense. Many a mouth would have opened wide at various points this season at the amount of chances the Machans seem to spurn. One of the players especially guilty of this decided to set things right against the Highlanders and Lallianzuala Chhangte followed up on his goal against Goa with a brace and a penalty assist. Unfortunately for the Mizo winger, his goals have come too late in the campaign to do his team much good.
6) Vital Point For The Highlanders
NorthEast United went into this game under some pressure. Victories for both of their immediate rivals in Hyderabad and Goa meant that they started the match one point behind those two teams, and outside the playoff places. They started in the worst way possible when Chhangte scored early but responded with the resilience we have come to expect from this Khalid Jamil side. On his first ever ISL start, Imran Khan got his reward for stooping low for a ball and putting his face in the firing line. Deshorn Brown then continued on his fine run with yet another blistering finish. Chennaiyin fought back and went 3-2 up going into added time, but the Highlanders salvaged what could turn out to be a season defining point by converting a penalty in the final seconds.
ATK Mohun Bagan 3 – SC East Bengal 1
7) Mariners Do The Double
ATK Mohun Bagan built on November’s victory in the reverse fixture by comfortably dispatching their fierce rivals. The Mariners somehow managed to go into the halftime break on level terms even though they had dominated the first forty minutes. It was Roy Krishna yet again who gave them the lead by running in behind and producing three touches of the highest order before the ball entered the net. Tiri, who had played that long ball, unfortunately guided the ball into his own net a few minutes before the interval, but that was the only time ATK Mohun Bagan found themselves in trouble in this encounter. Their game plan was on point and it would have been a travesty if the result had gone any other way. After a slight midseason bump, Antonio López Habas’ men have now won five on the trot.
8) Red-And-Gold Brigade Lack Intensity In Derby
It was strange watching one of the oldest derbies in the world play out the way it did. While their opponents seemed to grasp the intensity of the occasion, as evidenced by Pritam Kotal’s unusually belligerent display for the Mariners, East Bengal in contrast were playing at a snail’s pace. The press was non-existent from the start and that set the tone for the rest of the encounter. The biggest threat they could muster was through Raju Gaikwad’s long throws and the goal arrived via that avenue. Given that the Red-And-Gold Brigade did not have a single effort on target the entire game, it was scarcely deserved but did give them hope going into the interval. If a more proactive side had stepped out after the break, maybe they could have had a chance, but with the season petering out, the white flags were raised fairly quickly.
Jamshedpur FC 2 – Mumbai City FC 0
9) Slimmest Of Hopes For The Miners
Jamshedpur produced their best performance of the season by quite some margin as they outplayed the Islanders in every department. In the process, they kept alive their hopes of reaching the playoffs, even though they will need a lot of results to fall their way. That is highly unlikely to happen and Owen Coyle must wonder why his team could not replicate this form when it truly mattered earlier in the season. Mumbai were restricted to shots outside the box while Jamshedpur’s players swarmed Amrinder Singh’s goalmouth at the other end. Farukh Choudhary was excellent throughout and another new signing in Boris Thangjam gave them the lead a few minutes after coming on in the second half. With the Islanders chasing the game, David Grande provided the finishing touches and drove a dagger into the hearts of their supporters.
10) Mumbai Imploding At Worst Time Possible
Mumbai’s fate was taken out of their own hands as Sergio Lobera’s men fell to a consecutive defeat for the first time this season. Having only lost twice previously, the result was as rare as it was unexpected. Their campaign has turned on the last few minutes of the game against Goa. Hugo Boumous got himself an unnecessary fourth yellow card for time-wasting before drawing a red card for berating match officials. On course for a 3-2 win in the 90th minute of that fixture, they had to settle for a point, and without Boumous in the ranks, seem to be bereft of ideas. This was as poor a game as we have ever seen from a Lobera side and if ATK Mohun Bagan get a win against Hyderabad in their next match, Mumbai’s Champions League aspirations will bite the dust.
Image Credit – Official Indian Super League Twitter Page