5 memorable unbeaten streaks in I-League
East Bengal’s goalless draw away at Shillong Lajong on Saturday saw them extend their I-League unbeaten run to 15 games. The streak started in March with a 1-0 win over Salgaocar, with their last defeat coming against Lajong in a 1-2 loss back in February.
Sportskeeda looks back at five of the most memorable unbeaten streaks in the I-League.
Note: These are streaks only achieved in the I-League, which started in 2007
Churchill Brothers: 17 matches (February 20 2009 – January 22 2010)
After missing out the title on goal difference in the 2007-08 season, Churchill Brothers lost their way in the 2008-09 title race after a 1-0 defeat to fellow title-contenders Sporting Clube de Goa. But they bounced back with a 9-1 hammering of Vasco, with captain and talisman Odafa Okolie scoring a double hattrick. The big win proved to be a catalyst as they followed it up with five more wins and a draw to eventually win their first and till date only I-League crown. Besides Odafa, compatriot Ogba Kalu was another important player for the Goan side while India defender Gouramangi Singh and young midfielder Reisangmi Vashum also had great seasons. Churchill Brothers couldn’t retain the title next season but started the campaign with a ten-match unbeaten streak. But six of those games ended in draws as Churchill struggled to kill off teams and their impressive 17-match unbeaten run ended in a 3-2 defeat against East Bengal in Kolkata.
East Bengal: 14 matches (May 27 2010 – February 12 2011)
East Bengal ended the 2009-10 I-League campaign with a 1-1 draw against United Kerala. That fixture was not only Belgian coach Phillipe De Ridder’s last I-League game in his second spell at the club but it also turned out to be the first game of a 14-match unbeaten streak. The 2010-11 season saw the arrival of English coach Trevor Morgan and several changes in the squad. Under Morgan, East Bengal made a dream start as they retained the Federation Cup and won their opening six games in the I-League to become serious title contenders. The red-and-gold brigade were unbeaten in the entire first phase, which had 13 games but with Morgan suspended from the technical area in round 14 against lowly ONGC in Kolhapur, East Bengal gave a sluggish performance and were shockingly beaten 1-0. East Bengal were in title contention throughout the season but they never rediscovered their early season form after that defeat to ONGC and eventually managed a runners-up finish.
Mohun Bagan: 12 matches (October 19 2008 – February 22 2009)
Despite winning the Kolkata League, Mohun Bagan endured a poor start under Karim Bencherifa in the 2008-09 I-League as they managed just four draws in their five games. The last two of those opening five matches were uninspiring draws against local rivals Mohammedan Sporting and East Bengal. Pressure was mounting on Bencherifa until a 1-0 away win at Dempo. That victory seemed to kick-start their season as they followed it up with five consecutive wins and didn’t concede in that period. The winning run was a team effort as experienced heads like Jose Barreto, Marcos Pereira and Bhaichung Bhutia were performing consistently while youngsters like Rakesh Masih, Ishfaq Ahmed and NS Manju stepped up. That winning run was stretched to ten games as Mohun Bagan suddenly looked favourites for the title with an article on their winning sequence also featuring on the official website of FIFA. But the 12-match unbeaten run and 10-game winning sequence was ended after a 3-0 defeat to arch-rivals East Bengal. In the end, Mohun Bagan finished second that season.
Dempo: 11 matches (November 27 2007 – January 19 2008)
Dempo won the last edition of the National Football League (NFL) in 2006-07, ending the season with a five-match unbeaten run. The NFL was re-branded as the I-League in 2007-08 and Dempo started that campaign the way they had ended the previous season. Armando Colaco’s side played some fantastic attacking football with foreigners Ranti Martins, Beto and Edeh Chidi in superb form while the India internationals of their squad were also performing to their full potential. Scoring 27 goals, Dempo were undefeated in their first 11 games, winning eight of them, and looked to be running away with the title. A 3-1 defeat to Mahindra United in Mumbai ended an overall 16-game unbeaten run in the NFL and I-League but the fantastic start after 11 games was enough to see them retain the title at the end of the season.
Dempo: 7 matches (October 22 2011 – December 4 2011)
Having finished third in the 2010-11 season, Dempo were determined to regain the I-League crown in 2011-12 and they gave themselves a great platform by winning their opening seven games. The Goan giants scored 23 goals including the 5-0 thrashings of Mumbai FC, Mohun Bagan and Shillong Lajong. Nigerian striker Ranti Martins looked unstoppable while India internationals Climax Lawrence, Anthony Pereira and Clifford Miranda were also in fine form. The run ended in a 1-2 defeat to Churchill Brothers, a match in which both teams were without India team players as they were away on international duty in the SAFF Cup. Dempo were affected more as they had several national team members but the seven straight wins proved to be decisive as they lifted their fifth Indian title in May 2012.