Talking Points From Week 21 Of ISL 7

Bengaluru FC 1 – FC Goa 2

1)Blues Miss Playoffs For First Time

Since Bengaluru joined the ISL in the fourth edition, the lowest they had placed on the points table was third. After topping it for two seasons running, they had a poor season by their standards last year, finishing behind Goa and ATK. It got worse in this campaign and following their defeat to the Gaurs, the highest they can aspire to is sixth. It has been a major climbdown for a proud outfit who have just not been able to string some consistency to their play this season. Marco Pezzaiuoli, who will take over as head coach before the Blues start their campaign in Asia, was watching on the sidelines and he would have realized the magnitude of the task awaiting him. This side is in need of a refresh and the German manager will have the unenviable task of culling out some deadwood from a championship winning squad. 

2) Ferrando Matches Zico’s Record

Less than a month after their former manager equalled Zico’s twelve-match unbeaten record in the ISL by replicating the same at Mumbai, his replacement showed that he could produce the goods as well. Juan Ferrando has settled into his job after early jitters and Goa are one of the form sides in the league. Their fate is firmly in their own hands after they did a number over a Bengaluru side that has troubled them innumerable times in the past. Igor Angulo and Redeem Tlang settled the nerves by scoring two goals within the first quarter of the game and even though Suresh Wangjam trashed in his first professional goal for the Blues, the Gaurs were rarely threatened in the second half. If they produce a result against Hyderabad in their last game, a proud top-four record of their own would be maintained. Only in 2016 have they failed to make the cut. 

Kerala Blasters 1 – Chennaiyin FC 1

3) Hooper Scores 200th League Goal

Gary Hooper has not had the greatest of seasons, scoring only five times in all, but he celebrated a milestone when he tucked in a penalty against the Marina Machans. It was his 200th professional goal and the former Celtic striker would have quietly relished the moment. Kerala were put under the pump by Chennaiyin early on and could easily have fallen two or three goals behind in the first fifteen minutes. They recovered and gathered more momentum as the game progressed without really threatening the opposition goal too much. Vishal Kaith had to make a couple of good saves but for the most part had a quiet night. Ishfaq Ahmed, who took over from Kibu Vicuña as the interim coach, stressed at his post-match interview that the Blasters need to focus on defence next season. While he had a point, there is a larger malaise that afflicts the club. Yet another disappointing campaign is drawing to a close. 

4) Fatkhullo Finally Gets On The Board

Much was expected of Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev when he signed for Chennaiyin this season. The Tajik player, who is his country’s most capped international, has tormented Indian national and club sides in the past. He has had an underwhelming season though and Csaba László has not been able to depend on the player for goals or assists. He has found playing time hard to come by in the latter half of the season but with only pride to play for, found a place in the starting lineup against the Blasters. His first goal of the season gave Chennaiyin the lead but the wastefulness that has afflicted the Machans throughout the campaign reared its head yet again. Last season’s finalists ended their league campaign with eleven draws and those were a few too many for any team with playoff aspirations. 

Hyderabad FC 2 – ATK Mohun Bagan 2

5) Kattimani Errors Cost Valiant Hyderabad

The neutral’s favourite this season in the Nizams did their manager and supporters proud with an eye-catching display, despite being a man down from the fifth minute. Led by the irrepressible Aridane Santana, they provided further proof that a charge at the title is possible this season. They may yet not make the playoffs, and the mood at the final whistle was sombre, but a victory over Goa in their final group fixture will guarantee entry into the final four. Laxmikant Kattimani will have to take the blame for converting victory into a draw as he made costly mistakes for both of ATK Mohun Bagan’s goals. He inexplicably went to ground when Manvir Singh shot straight at him from a tight angle and then dropped the ball in the closing seconds for Pritam Kotal to tuck in the equalizer. All will be forgiven if he brings his A game to the table over the weekend though. 

6) Mariners Hand Initiative Back To Mumbai

When Chinglensana Singh was given his marching orders in the opening minutes, a resigned sigh must have echoed across the Mumbai hotel rooms. They must surely have been watching, with a victory against Hyderabad guaranteeing ATK Mohun Bagan the league winners shield. As it turned out, the initiative handed over by the Islanders after their defeat against Jamshedpur was not taken advantage of and if Mumbai beat Odisha, the final game of the league phase will decide the lone Champions League place. Worryingly for Antonio López Habas, the recent air of invincibility surrounding his team has dissipated somewhat with this result. One of their three defeats this season came against Mumbai, and if Odisha are disposed with, Sergio Lobera will fancy his chances even without Hugo Boumous. In more positive news for Habas, he will then only need one point to get into Asia while the Islanders will need a victory.  

SC East Bengal 1 – NorthEast United 2

7) Golui Scores At Both Ends

Sarthak Golui had found this season to be tough going at Mumbai. After playing a vital part for both FC Pune City and the Islanders over three seasons, which included call-ups to the national squad, he was finding game time hard to come by under Sergio Lobera. It probably suited all parties when he made the move to East Bengal. The Red-And-Gold Brigade were lacking in their Indian contingent and he walked right into the starting lineup once the transfer was confirmed at the end of January. He has played well both as a central defender and at right-back but against the Highlanders, probably wanted the ground to open up and swallow him up when he guided a Nim Dorjee Tamang cross into his own net with unerring precision. To his credit, he sorted his head out and made amends at the other end of the pitch with a brave header. It did not have any bearing on the eventual result but East Bengal have a player they can count on to deliver the goods in a better squad next season. 

8) Journeyman Suhair Nabs His First ISL goal

V.P. Suhair has been around the circuit for a long time. The forward, who came into prominence playing for Calicut University in Kerala, has since played for a string of clubs in both Kerala and Kolkata. It was his performances in Mohun Bagan’s I-League winning campaign last season that caught the eye of ISL teams and the Highlanders snapped him up on a two-year contract. He has been trusted to do a job both by Gerard Nus and Khalid Jamil and while there has been no doubting his effort, the goals were just not coming. Against East Bengal, he made more forays into central areas from the right flank and was rewarded when Imran Khan found him on one of his runs. After a touch took the ball away from the defender, a quick left-footed shot beat his friend and debutant, Mirshad Michu in goal. With the win taking NorthEast back into the top four and in control over their own destiny, he could not have timed it better. 

Odisha FC 1 – Mumbai City FC 6

9) Arshdeep Inconsistencies On Show Again

After a decent start to the season, Arshdeep Singh’s form has fluctuated wildly and contributed to Odisha’s defensive woes. This game highlighted the best and worst of the Punjabi goalkeeper. On one hand, he saved brilliantly from Ahmed Jahouh’s penalty while also getting strong hands to a couple of other efforts. Contrarily, he allowed a ball to squirm through him and parried another onto the path of an onrushing opponent for a couple of goals. No team has conceded more goals than the Juggernauts this season and Arshdeep’s performance was emblematic of a problem the entire defensive line has faced right through the campaign. The latest interim coach in Steven Dias was looking to give some of his Indian players on the fringe some game time and the score line reflected that in the end. 

10) First Hattrick Of Season From Unlikely Source

We had to wait till the 105th game of the season for its first hattrick to be registered. It did not come from any of the usual suspects either. Even if one were to pick someone from this Mumbai team to put three past an opponent, you would not look beyond Bartholomew Ogbeche or Adam Le Fondre. Bipin Singh more than doubled his tally for the season at the most opportune time possible as Mumbai gave themselves a fighting chance of securing a Champions League place. Ogbeche had two goals himself and with Cy Goddard trashing in his first goal of the season, the Islanders go into their must-win game with confidence under their belt. The only blemishes on their performance were Jahouh’s missed penalty and Vignesh Dakshinamurthy’s fourth yellow card of the season, which means he will miss the all-important clash. 

Image Credit – Official Indian Super League Twitter Page

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