Over the week-end and on Monday, a drawn game for Atletico de Kolkata between FC Pune City on Saturday, a victory for Chennaiyin against Kerala Blasters on Sunday, and an impressive 3-0 win for FC Goa against NorthEast United on Monday brought dramatic changes in the league standings. The matches have also made semifinal places difficult for NorthEast United, Mumbai City, Pune City and Delhi Dynamos. These teams need to win all their remaining games to stay in contention. The only semifinal certainty is Chennaiyin FC with 6 wins and 4 draws from 12 matches so far. The most impressive performance in the last two weeks has come from FC Goa, who now have 5 victories and 3 drawn games from their 12 matches. On Saturday, the resurgent FC Pune allowed ATK only 1 point by holding the ex-league leaders 1-1 at Pune, Chennai beat Kerala 1-0 in an away game but the best result was delivered by FC Goa, who beat NorthEast United 3-0 to the delight of home fans.
On Saturday, Pune City FC’s drawn game against ATK didn’t help their cause. But they denied ATK full 3 points, though Kolkata started promisingly and scored their first goal in the 11th minute. A lovely Luis Garcia cross from right was accurately connected by Jacob Podany. Despite the lead, ATK were pushed back by a spirited home side. Pune kept raiding ATK goal area and their solid defense didn’t allow much leeway to ATK in the first half. Just at the stroke of halftime, Pune’s Greek star Kostas Katsouranis found the equalizer to make the score 1-1. Pune had earned a corner but a weak clearance by ATK came in the path of Kostas, whose powerful shot found the target.
Kostas controlled the game from midfield but Pune missed several close chances. Though second half was not fruitful, Pune clearly emerged as the dominant side. ATK’s Ethiopian star Fikru Teferra was kept under check by Pune markers and even in second half, ATK could not raise their game as the match ended 1-1. For their next home game, Pune will take on Mumbai on December 3, while ATK play against Delhi Dynamos on December 2 at Delhi.
On Sunday at Kochi, Chennaiyin FC beat Kerala Blasters FC 1-0 and consolidated their position at the top. The game started with neither side creating chances though Chennai looked a better team. However, a strong Kerala defense foiled whatever moves were made. Kerala suffered a handicap in 20th minute, when their goalkeeper-manager David James had to leave the field to be replaced by Sandip Nandy. After plenty of action and 27 free kicks, the first half ended 0-0.
Kerala had a great scoring opportunity in the beginning of the second half, when Sabeeth managed a superb through pass to Iain Hume but Hume’s strike went off the target. Chennai also mounted attacks on the Kerala goal but couldn’t find the target. Late in the second half, Chennaiyin FC’s match-winning substitute Bruno Pelissari made immediate difference in one moment of pure football magic. With 3 minutes remaining on the clock, he carried the ball from his own half after Kerala’s corner and found two defenders but he could enter the Kerala box regardless. After creating space for himself, Pelissari produced a curling left-footer that found the far corner past the awestruck goalkeeper. Buoyed by the 1-0 lead, Chennai came close to scoring yet again two minutes later, when substitute Jayesh Rane had just the goalkeeper to beat but Jhingan eased the ball off Rane’s feet with a sliding effort to avert the danger. In their next matches, Kerala will host NorthEast United on December 4, while Chennai also have a home game against Goa on December 5.
On Monday, Goa returned a superb home performance against NorthEast United and scored an emphatic 3-0 victory. The lively match was peppered by goals from Romeo Fernandes, Miroslav Slepicka and Andre Santos to the enjoyment of the home crowd. The match also brought the 100th goal of Hero ISL, when Fernandes found the net.
Goa started on a positive note with a chance of scoring in the initial minutes. Romeo Fernandes had sent a perfect cross for Zohib Amiri but Amiri’s header sailed over the bar. NEUFC played with the same 3-5-2 formation that had worked wonders for them in their match against Chennaiyin FC but soon, Goa got a foothold in the game and stopped any moves from NEUFC. After Amiri’s missed header, Goa missed another, when Santos’ lob over the goalkeeper’s head went over the crosspiece. The first goal and ISL’s 100th came in 33rd minute from Slepicka’s beautiful through pass to Romeo Fernandes, who banged the target to make it 1-0 for Goa. It was 2-0 soon afterwards, when the goalkeeper threw the ball to find a racing Fernandes on the left. Though Fernandes was dispossessed, the ball came to Bikramjit Singh, from whose pass, Slepicka slotted in to make his personal tally in ISL to 4 goals.
NEUFC tried their best in the second half and almost found a goal but Jan Seda’s brilliant work denied them. Meanwhile, Goa were content to playing a wait-and-watch game. In 74th minute, Narayan Das got the ball on the left and passed it Santos, who was sneaking into the box. For a while, Santos teased the NEUFC defenders but when he finally struck, he found the nets to make it 3-0 for the home side. With this defeat, NEUFC’s qualification chances have taken a big blow while Goa went soaring to the second spot.