I-League: Round 17 Review – Pune’s young guns impress despite draw
There were only three matches at the weekend but it still produced significant results at both ends of the table. I-League debutants Rangdajied United suffered their second defeat in Goa in three days as they were beaten 2-0 by Dempo. The result keeps Rangdajied rooted to the rock-bottom spot while Dempo moved into the top half. Survival is still within the Shillong club’s reach but they are running out of fixtures with teams above them having games in hand. On a positive note, they have signed the top scorer of the last three seasons, Ranti Martins, while five of their remaining eight fixtures are at home.
League leaders Bengaluru FC were not in action but this round proved to be a happy one for them as fellow title contenders Pune FC and Sporting Clube played out a 1-1 draw. Bengaluru could have lost top spot had Sporting Clube recorded a two-goal margin victory but the Goan club could only manage a point despite taking the lead in the first half. The result keeps Bengaluru two points clear of Sporting Clube with both clubs having played 15 games each while Pune’s tally is five off the top.
Salgaocar also kept their faint title hopes alive with a narrow home win over Mohun Bagan. Derrick Pereira’s side are nine behind Bengaluru with the new strike partnership of Darryl Duffy and Dudu Omagbemi showing promise. Dudu scored on his Salgaocar debut much to the disappointment of the Mohun Bagan fans who will be hoping that their club don’t get involved in the relegation battle. Karim Bencherifa’s team have a six-point advantage over Rangdajied but they still have to face the north-east club away and five of their other seven games are against title contenders.
Dempo 2-0 Rangdajied United; Salgaocar 1-0 Mohun Bagan; Pune FC 1-1 Sporting Clube
Game & Result of the round
Pune FC 1-1 Sporting Clube
It was the perfect opportunity for Sporting Clube to go top as they were up against a Pune FC side that was missing several key players and also winless since the end of November. Pune fielded only two foreigners in the starting eleven and five academy graduates. The Red Lizards started brightly but a lapse of concentration in their inexperienced backline allowed Beevan D’Mello to put Sporting Clube in front. With a halftime lead, Sporting were on course for the result that would send them to the summit but Pune’s young guns fought back in the second period to earn a point.
Mike Snoei’s side looked quite dangerous going forward in the first half also with wingers Anthony D’Souza and Gabriel Fernandes being lively. But in the second half Pune’s intensity increased further with 20-year-old striker Thongkhosiem Haokip equalising through a towering header. Sporting Clube could have immediately gone back in front but Ogba Kalu wasted a great opportunity on the break. After that it was all Pune with Sporting Clube virtually hanging on for one point. D’Souza hit the woodwork while the Goan club also made two goalline clearances to deny Pune. Sporting Clube coach Oscar Bruzon also surprisingly kept Victorino Fernandes on the bench until 89 minutes and would be disappointed with his team’s display in the second half.
It was a fearless display from Pune’s youngsters and with an experienced finisher in the side, they could have easily taken all three points. The club’s head of operations Chirag Tanna described it as their best performance of the season and it’s hard to argue with that. But more importantly Pune outplayed a title contender despite having a weakened side and possibly many of these raw youngsters would keep their place in the team even when the key men return. The future of Pune FC has always looked bright and Sunday’s display was another reminder. With the imminent of arrival of Australian centre-forward Mirjan Pavlovic, they very much remain in title contention.
Foreigner – Dudu Omagbemi (Salgaocar)
The Nigerian made a fairytale return to Indian football by netting the winner on his Salgaocar debut. Dudu didn’t look 100% fit but used his experience and physical strength to score the only goal of a tight contest.
Indian – Gabriel Fernandes (Indian)
The 25-year-old has been Pune’s best player since joining them before the Federation Cup and he was outstanding against Sporting Clube. Gabriel’s pace and trickery caused several problems to Sporting Clube’s defence and thus was fouled several times by the Goan outfit.
There were not too many controversial moments in this round but the mini stoppage in the Salgaocar – Mohun Bagan game was unnecessary. With daylight fading, the stadium authorities at the Tilak Maidan should have switched on the floodlights much before the away team complained and forced the referee to stop the game. The match resumed once all the floodlights were on but the mini delay could have cost hosts Salgaocar two priceless points.