Real Kashmir were held goalless by visitors Churchill Brothers in the much-anticipated inaugural I-League game at the TRC Turf Ground in Srinagar. Although the style of play was not impressive and catapulting, the 10,000 odd-fans who filled the stand to its brim were thoroughly enjoyed the game.
Both sides were unable to hold onto possession and create clear-cut goal-scoring chances. A red card to James Kithan reduced the visitors to 10 men but the Snow Leopards failed to capitalise on the same.
With this stalemate, Real Kashmir stay third on the table, while Churchill Brothers leap to fourth in the standings. Churchill have three draws from their outings, while Kashmir have four points in two games.
Kashmir stunned the defending champions Minerva Punjab in Panchkula last week but were unable to repeat that success at home.
Let's have a look at the players who had the best time on the pitch along with those who struggled:
#1 Hit: Danish Farooq
The Second Division League's top-scorer from last season was a livewire upfront for the home side. He showed signs of his quality early in the match when he hit the woodwork in his first attempt, keeping the fans at the edge of their seats.
The Kashmiri lad has become a household name in the valley after his splendid performance last season. Danish combined with Krizo upfront and breached the Churchill defence at regular intervals. His height and agility often gave the Churchill marksmen a tough time during set-pieces.
Danish made life tough for veteran Nallapan Mohanraj on the right. He came close to breaking the deadlock late in the second half by going past two defenders in a flash, created space for himself and went for goal from an acute angle, forcing Vigneshwaran Baskaran to pull off an acrobatic save.
Danish's quick movement on and off the ball was impressive and he was aptly named the 'Hero of the Match'.
#2 Flop: Nenad Novakovic
The former AC Tripoli left-back was taken for a ride by Danish Farooq and Krizo. The Bosnian was slow and imperceptive in his approach to the game and struggled to keep the Real Kashmir forwards in check.
Things got worse when his feeble back-pass to goalkeeper James Kithan was intercepted by Krizo, who was through on goal but was brought down by the on-rushing goalie by handling the ball outside the box. Kithan was shown a red accordingly, thus reducing the Red Machines to 10 men for more than an hour.
Novakovic's lack of communication with Hussein Eldor was visible as both of them were not confident in going for the ball in tricky situations.
Novakovic appeared uneasy in going for tackles in the final third of the game. His frequently lost possession in his own half, which could have proved detrimental for his side.
#3 Hit: Gnohere Krizo
Krizo was burgeoning on the pitch today. With fiery runs and unpredictable shooting ability, he was the most threatening player for Real Kashmir against Churchill. Krizo could easily go past two or three defenders at one go and open up several chances for his team.
His brilliant hold-up play allowed Danish and Brian Mascarenhas to make runs down the flanks. Nenad Novakovic, Wayne Vaz and Hussein Eldor struggled to contain the Ivorian.
Krizo came close to scoring when he rattled the woodwork from point-blank range after receiving the ball amidst a crowd of players off a corner by Brian Mascarenhas. Krizo's intelligent off-the-ball runs allowed Bazie Armand, Aaron Katebe and Farhan Ganie go for those through-balls, which disturbed the formation at the back for Churchill Brothers.
It was Krizo's pace which allowed him to intercept the loose pass by Novakovic to Kithan, which resulted in a red card.
#4 Flop: Willis Plaza
Willis Plaza's poor form from last season continues in the I-League. After being released by East Bengal for his disappointing performance, the Trinidad and Tobago man landed in Churchill Brothers just before the end of the previous season. Churchill extended his stay in Goa because of his heroics in the Super Cup, but the current form is worrying for Churchill coach Petre Gigiu.
Plaza failed to make any impact on the game and registered no shots on target. He did dribble past few defenders in a flash but failed to make space for himself to shoot. Muhammad Hammad and Mason Robertson were all over him, successfully subduing the striker.
Plaza was not able to hold the ball for long and gave it away way too cheaply instead of building a move. Khalid Aucho provided a couple of tempting passes through the Kashmir defence but Plaza took too much time to sort his feet on each occasion, allowing the home side to recover possession.
#5 Hit: Khalid Aucho
Highly regarded by the East Bengal faithful for his splendid but short stint for the Red and Golds in the Super Cup, the former Red Star Belgrade midfielder had a top game against Real Kashmir, showing his fighting spirit on the field.
His timely interceptions ahead of the back-four did not allow Krizo and Danish to get into the box with ease, thus keeping them at bay.
Aucho's through balls and pin-point lobs towards Plaza and Dawda Ceesay troubled the Kashmir back-four. But shabby first touches and poor finishing from the forwards did injustice to Aucho's brilliance.
Aucho will be pivotal to Churchill's campaign in the season but the Red Machines need some fresh fire-power upfront to capitalize on the Ugandan's passes.