Round four of the Airtel I-League saw 15 goals in six matches and four of them came in one match and from one team. That team in question is AFC Cup semi-finalists East Bengal who very much lived up to their favourites tag by thumping Lajong 4-0 in Shillong. It was Brazilian coach Marcos Falopa’s first I-League game in charge and he couldn’t have wished for a better start. The 64-year-old has been in the shadow of Trevor Morgan’s achievements but he has already become the first coach to guide East Bengal to an away win in Shillong.
The best part of East Bengal’s victory was the fact that it came in the absence of rested first-term regulars like Mehtab Hossain, Arnab Mondal, Naoba Singh and Saumik Dey. Falopa was heavily criticised for that decision by the Bengali media of Kolkata but has now proved his critics wrong and would look to build on that impressive start by winning their next I-League game against Dempo before the historic AFC Cup semi-final second leg against Kuwait SC in Kolkata on October 22.
The result and performance against Lajong clearly showed the strength in depth in East Bengal’s squad and the red-and-gold brigade will be encouraged by the fact that none of the other 12 clubs seem to have enough quality in their squads. That was noticeable even in the stalemate between Goan giants Dempo and Salgaocar as both clubs could only bring on young or inexperienced substitutes.
Defending champions Churchill Brothers remained winless after four matches as they could only come from behind to earn a point against newly-promoted Rangdajied United in Shillong. Mumbai FC continued their unbeaten start with a draw against United Sports Club but debutants Bengaluru FC and last season’s runners-up Pune FC maintained their brilliant starts to the season.
Bengaluru recorded their third straight win with a 2-1 victory over Mohammedan Sporting to go three points clear at the top, albeit having played a game more than joint-second placed teams Pune FC and Salgaocar. The result in Bangalore saw Mohammedan Sporting suffer their third consecutive defeat with pressure mounting on the coach Moshood Bola Abdulaziz. Another Kolkata club who were beaten in this round was Mohun Bagan as their ten men came up short against Pune in a 2-0 loss. Despite having a young and new-look squad Pune look good to mount a title challenge while Mohun Bagan continue to struggle in the absence of their injured captain Odafa Okolie.
Shillong Lajong 0-4 East Bengal; Salgaocar 1-1 Dempo; Mumbai FC 1-1 United Sports Club; Rangdajied United 1-1 Churchill Brothers; Bengaluru FC 2-1 Mohammedan Sporting; Pune FC 2-0 Mohun Bagan
Game of the round
Salgaocar 1-1 Dempo
The Goan derby ended all square and quality wise was the best game of matchday four as both teams had numerous neat moves in the match. Although it wasn’t really a game of two halves, Salgaocar looked better in the first period while Dempo improved in the second half. So a draw was a fair reflection of the game and it kept the five-time record India champions Dempo winless after four rounds. Coach Arthur Papas was once again absent as he is in Australia due to visa issues and it doesn’t get any easier for Dempo as they next have an away match against East Bengal.
Salgaocar started the game very well with some very good movement on the wings as Dempo looked vulnerable in defence once again. But Derrick Pereira’s side were very wasteful with their final ball and finishing with Darryl Duffy’s goal coming thanks to a deflection. In the second half, the tempo of Salgaocar’s play dropped perhaps because they had one day less to prepare for the game something which coach Pereira pointed out after the match. That allowed Dempo to dictate the proceedings and they equalised late on through Jeje Lalpekhlua as India international Karanjit Singh conceded for the first time this season.
The lack of strength in depth in Salgaocar’s squad was evident in the second half as they could only bring on inexperienced players like Lenny Pereira, Brian Mascarenhas. Dempo too didn’t have too many options on the bench to bring on and change the complexion of this contest but Beto, Clifford Miranda and Jeje in particular stepped up and helped the Panjim-based club avoid their second loss of the campaign. This fixture showed that both teams have good first choice lineups but could fall short in the title race as they don’t have a big squad to choose from.