Round 24 could turn out to be a pivotal matchday of the 2013-14 I-League as Bengaluru FC maintained their four-point lead at the top while relegation contenders Churchill Brothers and Mohammedan Sporting failed to record maximum points. Bengaluru had a potentially tough away game against Mohun Bagan and since the I-League debutants had been struggling on their travels, they were expected to drop points in this fixture. East Bengal were hoping for a favour from their arch-rivals Mohun Bagan but in the end Bengaluru produced a good professional performance to win 2-0 and take a giant step towards the league crown. Mohun Bagan also missed the opportunity to guarantee their survival and thus are mathematically still not safe with two games remaining.
Before Bengaluru’s win on Sunday, East Bengal had done their job on Saturday by beating local rivals Mohammedan Sporting 3-1. The red-and-gold brigade were far from their best but were clinical while there were some horrendous individual mistakes from Mohammedan. East Bengal recorded back-to-back wins in this season’s I-League for the first time and thus remain in contention for the title while Mohammedan are still rooted to the bottom and have three more games to avoid relegation. East Bengal’s victory was only good enough to get them up to third as the second spot still belongs to Salgaocar after their impressive 2-1 away win over Pune FC on Friday.
Churchill Brothers failed to capitalise on Mohammedan’s loss as they only managed a 1-1 stalemate with Goan rivals Sporting Clube. It was a very tight game with Anthony Wolfe finally putting Churchill in front in the 72nd minute but Sporting Clube equalised through Boima Karpeh eight minutes later. Churchill have one point more than Mohammedan with their game in hand against title-chasing East Bengal. Mumbai FC also failed to record a victory but scored a late equaliser against Dempo to earn another precious away point. Mumbai are now virtually safe as they are seven points clear of the drop zone with only two other teams losing more games than them.
Pune FC 1-2 Salgaocar; East Bengal 3-1 Mohammedan Sporting; Dempo 1-1 Mumbai FC; Mohun Bagan 0-2 Bengaluru FC; Sporting Clube 1-1 Churchill Brothers
Game of the round
Pune FC 1-2 Salgaocar
Only three points separated the sides before kickoff with both still having a chance of catching leaders Bengaluru. But Pune were in poor form, having failed to win their previous eight fixtures in all competitions. Salgaocar had been consistent in 2014 but recorded just one point in their previous two games. The subplot was Salgaocar coach Derrick Pereira’s reunion with his former club Pune FC with the Indian tactician determined to maintain the Goan club’s title challenge. The reverse fixture had ended 1-1 but Pune were awarded a 3-0 victory as Salgaocar were guilty of fielding two unregistered players.
Salgaocar in particular had plenty to prove but the game was an even contest for much of the first half with both teams creating chances. Pune had done well to stop Salgaocar’s star strike pairing of Dudu Omagbemi and Darryl Duffy from scoring but Dudu played a key role in creating the opener which was netted by Gilbert Oliveira. Salgaocar’s Karanjit Singh made a great save to preserve his team’s lead but Pune won a penalty early in the second period. However there was a major scuffle and Pune’s Dhanpal Ganeshan was sent off for punching Karanjit.
Riga Mustapha successfully converted from the spot to net his tenth goal in all competitions and bring Pune level. But Salgaocar had the numerical advantage to go on and win the game while Pune coach Mike Snoei made defensive changes. Despite being down to ten, the hosts created numerous opportunities but were wasteful in front of goal. The Red Lizards were punished for their poor finishing as Duffy’s 12th I-League goal gave Salgaocar all three points and officially ended Pune’s title hopes. Salgaocar’s fate still depends on the results of East Bengal and Bengaluru while Pune are in danger of finishing outside the top five for the very first time.
Result of the round
Mohun Bagan 0-2 Bengaluru FC
Despite East Bengal’s games in hand, their I-League title hopes depend heavily on the results of Bengaluru. This fixture was regarded as a potential banana skin for Bengaluru and possibly more than that as Ashley Westwood’s side had managed just four wins in their previous nine away games. As a result, for once, East Bengal fans were rooting for Mohun Bagan. Some of them weren’t willingly to accept publicly that they needed a favour from their arch-rivals while others simply predicted that Mohun Bagan wouldn’t care about East Bengal’s title aspirations and lose the match.
In the end that pessimism among East Bengal fans proved to be true as Mohun Bagan produced a poor performance and suffered their eighth loss of the season. The Mariners saw plenty of the ball but lacked ideas in the final third with the Bengaluru backline having a comfortable outing. Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa used two goalkeepers in the game and each of them was responsible for a goal each. The first came after a cross from Sean Rooney was headed home by Thoi Singh in the six-yard box. Bencherifa was so unhappy with Shilton Paul that he replaced him with Sandip Nandy at the start of the second half.
Nandy though committed an even bigger mistake as while in possession he delayed and was closed down by Robin Singh. Hence the veteran hurried his clearance and it felt to Rooney who scored with a well-placed half volley. That blunder from Sandip raised further conspiracy theories from East Bengal fans but more importantly it sealed an important victory for Bengaluru. Mohun Bagan didn’t even have a shot on target until the 84th minute and this dismal showing keeps them close to the relegation zone. Bengaluru though go marching on towards an incredible title triumph on their debut season but they must avoid any away-day blues on two more occasions.
Foreigner – Sean Rooney (Bengaluru FC)
The Australian provided a brilliant assist for Thoi and scored the second to seal the points for his side. Rooney has now scored nine goals in the I-League but could miss the final two games due to injury.
Indian – Gilbert Oliveira (Salgaocar)
The versatile winger netted his sixth goal of this season’s I-League with a great finish against Pune. Gilbert has emerged as an important player in Salgaocar’s title push and he will be looking to maintain his fine form.
Couple of refereeing decisions and scuffles was the major talking points of this round. Firstly on Friday, there was an altercation between Pune and Salgaocar players after the former were awarded a penalty. Eventually Pune’s Ganeshan was shown a straight red for punching Salgaocar custodian Karanjit on the face. Ganeshan lost his temper and that went on to cost Pune all three points. On Saturday, Mohammedan Sporting were miffed with the referee’s decision to allow East Bengal’s third goal to stand.
With the score being 2-1, Ryuji Sueoka was standing in an offside position but he didn’t touch the ball while Edeh Chidi came from an onside position to score his 100th goal in the National Football League and I-League. Based on current rules, Mohammedan can have no complaints but questions can be raised regarding the referee’s interpretation as Sueoka was clearly involved in the move despite being offside.
Also on Saturday there was a verbal battle between Dempo coach Arthur Papas and Mumbai FC coach Khalid Jamil. But according to reports from Goa, the matter didn’t end there as police had to intervene and stop a post-match fracas in the Nehru Stadium’s parking space with Dempo’s Zohib Islam Amiri, who is a former Mumbai player, being reportedly involved. It remains to be seen if any action is taken against the sides and any of the players. On Sunday, Bengaluru coach Ashley Westwood was sent off just before halftime after a series of heated arguments with fourth official Pratap Singh. The Englishman reportedly broke a glass cover of the Salt Lake Stadium’s tunnel and hurt himself.