The penultimate matchday of the Airtel I-League proved to be interesting with the results of two more rearranged fixtures adding to the excitement. It all kicked off with East Bengal’s win 3-1 over Pune FC on Saturday. The red-and-gold brigade produced one of their best performances of the season to ease past Pune and it was their third straight victory. The result got East Bengal closer to table toppers Bengaluru FC but a defeat in midweek has hampered their title hopes. More on that later in the piece.
Sunday was all about the battle for survival with three relegation six-pointers taking place. First United Sports Club and Mohun Bagan played out a goalless draw in Kalyani. The result extended United SC’s I-League winless streak to 13 games while it took Mohun Bagan one step closer to safety. Later in the day, Mohammedan Sporting came from behind to beat Rangdajied United 2-1 in Kolkata. That victory kept Rangdajied within Mohammedan’s reach and moved the black and whites out of the rock-bottom slot as in the evening kickoff Churchill Brothers suffered a 4-2 defeat to Churchill Brothers with veteran Yusif Yakubu netting a hattrick.
On Tuesday, title-chasing Salgaocar were in action against local rivals Sporting Clube de Goa. Salgaocar needed a win to maintain the pressure on Bengaluru and they looked on course as they raced to a two-goal lead. However Sporting Clube bounced back strongly with three goals and were minutes away from an incredible victory until Bikash Jairu scored a late equaliser for Salgaocar. Derrick Pereira’s side avoided defeat but it was a damaging draw as they now need Bengaluru to drop points in both their remaining two matches. Thankfully for Salgaocar, East Bengal lost to Churchill Brothers in midweek and that win moved the defending champions out of the one relegation spot as Mohammedan Sporting were beaten 5-4 at home by Shillong Lajong in one of the games of the season. Mohammedan’s loss also ensured Mohun Bagan’s survival.
East Bengal 3-1 Pune FC; United SC 0-0 Mohun Bagan; Mohammedan Sporting 2-1 Rangdajied United; Mumbai FC 4-2 Churchill Brothers; Sporting Clube 3-3 Salgaocar
Results of rearranged fixtures
Mohammedan Sporting 4-5 Shillong Lajong; Churchill Brothers 1-0 East Bengal
Game & Result of the round
Sporting Clube 3-3 Salgaocar
Salgaocar were on a high coming into this game as they had won 2-1 away at Pune FC. Sporting Clube were already out of the title race but needed a win to ensure a top-three finish. The Flaming Oranje got off to the worst possible start as Rojen Singh gave away a penalty by fouling Salgaocar’s top scorer Darry Duffy, who successfully converted the spot-kick to net his 13th goal of the campaign. A few minutes later Duffy’s striker partner Dudu Omagbemi made it 2-0 as he headed home Francis Fernandes’ cross. Sporting Clube were two down after 11 minutes as Salgaocar looked all set for a vital victory.
But Derrick Pereira’s team got complacent and allowed Sporting Clube to come back into the contest as Rowlin Borges’ cross was headed into the back of the net by Ogba Kalu Nnanna. The remainder of the first half saw very few attacks from either side but Salgaocar never regained their early intensity and Sporting Clube leveled the score with Boima Karpeh scoring from a corner. Oscar Bruzon’s team were full of confidence after their first-half comeback and were unlucky not to go in front as Cajetan Fernandes hit the woodwork. At the other end Dudu wasted a couple of great chances and those misses proved to be costly as Borges gave Sporting Clube the lead with a powerful shot.
It was an incredible turnaround in the game and Salgaocar looked dead and buried until Jairu scored from a Matthew Foschini cross in the 90th minute. Salgaocar didn’t have enough time to find a winner and the draw all but ends their title hopes. Even if they win their appeal of the point deduction that they suffered against Pune FC earlier in the season, Salgaocar’s maximum points tally now can be only 42 whereas Bengaluru are currently on 41 with two fixtures still remaining. Meanwhile Sporting Clube are set to miss out on the top three and might have to win their last game to finish fourth.
Foreigner – Yusif Yakubu (Mumbai FC)
The evergreen Ghanaian showed his class in a vital encounter as he scored three fine goals to ensure Mumbai’s safety for another season. Yakubu was clinical in front of goal and his experience helped out the younger players in the team.
Indian – Lalrindika Ralte (East Bengal)
The India international had a poor outing in the midweek rearranged fixture against Churchill Brothers but was inspirational in the win over Pune FC at the weekend as he bagged a match-winning brace to take his personal tally to four.