I-League debutants Bengaluru FC and Rangdajied United have had contrasting campaigns so far with the former leading the table while the Shillong club are fighting to avoid relegation. Both sides recorded convincing home wins in this round to improve their respective targets as Bengaluru eased past Churchill Brothers to go four points clear at the top while Rangdajied thumped United SC 4-0 to move out of the one relegation spot.
There were significant wins for a couple of Goan giants too as Dempo thrashed Sporting Clube 4-0 with all four goals coming in the first half hour while Salgaocar defeated Mumbai FC 2-0. Sporting Clube came into this clash with one of the best defensive records but Dempo’s young side made an explosive start to record their third straight victory. Salgaocar’s triumph was their fourth on the trot and the result moved them to third and within four points of Bengaluru.
However the wins of Bengaluru and Rangdajied were far more significant. Bengaluru had failed to win their previous two games and with this fixture being their penultimate home fixture, Ashley Westood’s side badly needed maximum points. Their opponents was a Churchill Brothers side, who were unbeaten in nine domestic matches, but Bengaluru won easily largely thanks to the heroics of skipper Sunil Chhetri. Rangdajied on the other hand won back-to-back games for the first time and the result has drawn even United SC into the relegation battle.
Rangdajied’s victory will worry Kolkata giants Mohammedan Sporting and Mohun Bagan as the two only managed a draw on Saturday. It was the fourth straight stalemate between the two this season and now neither is certain of remaining in the I-League. The other draw of the round took place in Pune with the home side requiring an injury-time equaliser to hold Shillong Lajong 2-2. Pune had their debutant Mirjan Pavlovic to thank for the late goal but they lost ground in the title race. History was also made in this fixture as Maria Rebello became the first woman referee to officiate in the I-League. It was the perfect way to celebrate Women’s Day.
Mohammedan Sporting 0-0 Mohun Bagan; Bengaluru FC 3-0 Churchill Brothers; Dempo 4-0 Sporting Clube; Pune FC 2-2 Shillong Lajong; Salgaocar 2-0 Mumbai FC; Rangdajied United 4-0 United SC
Game of the round
Pune FC 2-2 Shillong Lajong
Having won just two of their previous ten I-League games, Pune FC were desperate for maximum points to stay in touch with leaders Bengaluru FC. Opponents Shillong Lajong were also not in great form, having picked up just one victory in their last four I-League fixtures. Despite Pune’s rough run, their young side had been playing some attractive football and the availability of newly-signed Australian centre-forward Pavlovic also gave them a big boost. The hosts took an early lead with debutant Pavlovic involved as hit shot was saved by Lajong keeper Lalthuammawia Ralte but Gabriel Fernandes scored from the rebound.
Lajong regrouped quickly after going behind and equalised through Brazilian Uilliams Bomfin, who scored with a sumptuous freekick. It was end-to-end action after with both sides creating chances but Pavlovic and Lajong’s Cornell Glen were wasteful. Pune started the second period strongly and went close on a couple of occasions. So Uilliams’ second of the game came against the run of play as the Brazilian coolly slotted the ball past Amrinder Singh to put Lajong in front for the first time in the match. Lajong were on course for their second win in Pune this season and tried to slow the game down at every opportunity.
Mike Snoei’s side had lost only one of their previous 10 games in Pune this term and eventually avoided a third loss as Pavlovic scored a debut goal. The Australian was at the right place and right time to score from a Calum Angus freekick. A point was the least Pune deserved but the Red Lizards would look back at this as two points dropped because they created plenty of opportunities to win. They trail Bengaluru by four points now and still have to face the JSW-owned club away from home. Lajong once again showed a great fighting spirit and this attribute under Thangboi Singto has made them a top half team.
Result of the round
Rangdajied United 4-0 United SC
Australian Tolgay Ozbey could not feature for Dempo against Mohammedan Sporting, the club where he started the season at, in the Federation Cup due to an agreement between the player and his former employer. But there was no such clause and agreement when Ranti Martins left United SC in the winter transfer window to join Rangdajied United. As a result, Ranti featured against his former club on Sunday and played his part in a 4-0 victory for the Shillong club. When the Nigerian left United SC they were comfortably placed in mid table but just one point in three matches after break has drawn them into the relegation battle.
Rangdajied came into this game on the back of a thrilling 3-2 victory over league leaders Bengaluru FC. But they were still placed rock-bottom and thus had to make the most of home advantage in this clash. United SC were known to play an attractive passing game under Eelcho Schattorie but that style of play has disappeared under Subroto Bhattacharya, who has always been known to adopt a defensive strategy. That cautious approach saw United SC go into the halftime break all square with neither side creating any real chances in the first period. But North Korean Kim Song Yong’s opener eight minutes after the restart opened the floodgates for Rangdajied.
United SC started to attack a bit more after conceding and that created spaces for Rangdajied to exploit. Yong turned provider for the second goal as he set up Ranti, who scored for the second straight game. A late brace from substitute Lalnunpuia made it a more convincing scoreline and it could prove to be significant at the end of the season. Rangdajied are now 11th in the 13-team league and trail United SC by only two points. Besides United SC, at least four more clubs should be worried about their I-League status with defending champions Churchill Brothers currently occupying the one relegation spot.
Foreigner – Uilliams Bomfin (Shillong Lajong)
The Brazilian’s man-of-the-match display in round 18 got Lajong an away point against United SC and this time Uilliams bagged a brace to earn a draw away at title-chasing Pune FC. If the 25-year-old maintains this consistency, he will be a target of bigger clubs in the summer.
Indian – Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru FC)
After bagging a brace for the national team in midweek, the India captain scored twice at the weekend to inspire Bengaluru to their first win in three matches. Sunil is the outright top scorer with 12 goals and is now the favourite to finish as the highest scorer, something which no Indian has managed in the I-League era.
There was hardly any controversy in this round but Mohammedan Sporting could be fined for the fifth time this season as the kickoff of their game against Mohun Bagan was delayed as one of the corner flags was missing. So another bizarre incident but it has become a trend in Mohammedan Sporting’s home matches. Much like most of the season, the black and whites also criticised the referee for not awarding them a penalty in the second half. T Nagvenkar was the man in charge and he also turned down a decent penalty shout from Mohun Bagan also.