Pune FC edge out Salgaocar FC in a 1-0 win
4th placed Pune FC beat 5th placed Salgaocar FC 1-0 in a closely contested round 15 game of the Hero I-League at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Shivaji Sports Complex in Balewadi, Pune. The home team who had failed to register a win in any of the 3 earlier meetings with Salgaocar FC showed why history or stats played little role in the outcome of a game.
Mumtaz Akhtar was given a rare start for the home team in the absence of the suspended Dhanpal Ganesh, while the influential midfielder Arata Izumi came back after serving a one-match ban having accrued four yellow cards. As for the visitors, their attack was bolstered by the arrival of Darryl Duffy. However, Subrata Pal had to sit out giving Karanjit Singh a chance between the sticks.
The game started on a high note with both teams getting a decent chance within the opening five minutes. Augustin Fernandes could have given the visitors an early lead, but he missed an open header from just six yards out. Moments later, the Red Lizards took the attack to the opposition with Arata taking charge. A darting run down the left flank and an equally good cross just brushed Fanai Lalrempuia’s head on its way to safety.
The Greens kept the home defence on their heels with a string of quick attacks. After quick footwork, Bikas Jairu squared a neat ball towards Gilbert Oliviera whose side-footed shot whizzed past Amrinder’s right post. The former Pune FC midfielder, Douhou Pierre, gave the home side a scare when he wrapped his foot around the ball from just outside the box which was parried away by Amrinder’s firm fists.
The home team, buoyed by the crowd, started showing glimpses of brilliance. The first, when lack of communication between the defence and the keeper was almost capitalized by Fanai Lalrempuia lashed one right onto the goal, but the Karanjit was up to the task and pushed the ball out for a corner. The second came towards the end of the first half. Haokip spotted Darko Nikac’s run and slid a well-timed ball into the forward’s feet. Nikac rounded off a defender before going down in the box after minimal contact. The crowd rose to their feet when the referee blew the whistle only to realize that the Montenegro striker was booked for simulation.
A scrappy second half resulted in a late winner for the home side
The visitors came agonizingly close to drawing first blood at the beginning of the second half. Zakeer Mundampara spotted Douhou Pierre’s run down the middle and slid in a defence-splitting pass towards him. With only the keeper to beat, albeit from an acute angle, the Ivorian let one fly, only to rattle the upright before the ball went out of play.
The game saw a moment of controversy when a lobbed ball towards Nikac forced Karanjit Singh out of his area. He appeared to be the favourite to win the ball until the linesman adjudged he had handled the ball. The referee dished out a yellow card before being surrounded by a horde of agitated Red Lizards who thought he should have been sent off because he was the last man and blocked a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
The visitors were knocking hard on the Pune team’s door. Darryl Duffy came close to pulling a rabbit out of the hat when he tried to lob the keeper, but was denied again by the goalpost. Minutes later, a goal mouth scramble which saw at least 3 shots blocked by the defenders whilst they lay flat on the floor, was eventually pushed out for a corner by a shaky Pune defence.
Just when the game appeared like it was going to end in a draw, the Red Lizards finally broke the deadlock in the 83rd minute courtesy of a Ryuji Sueoka goal. Darko Nikac beat two defenders before running into the box; he continued running down the byline before cutting the ball back towards Ryuji. The Japanese international side-footed the ball into the net sending the crowd into a frenzy.
The outcome of the game did not affect the standings of the two teams, but it helped Pune FC narrow the gap between them and third placed Royal Wahingdoh to 2 points with a game in hand. The Goans, however, stay in the fifth position with 14 points.