After a breather in round five, debutants Bengaluru FC returned to action in style as they thumped Dempo 3-1 to register their fourth consecutive home win, and it was enough to send them three points clear at the top.
Dempo had come into the game full of confidence after beating East Bengal in round five, but Bengaluru caught Arthur Papas’s team off guard as they raced to a 2-0 lead inside the first 11 minutes. Australian Sean Rooney completed his brace in the second half to make it 3-0 with Clifford Miranda’s freekick only proving to be a consolation for Dempo.
After the game, Papas was full of praise for Ashley Westwood’s side and admitted that his team never recovered following the two early goals.
Bengaluru FC are getting better with every game as Westwood seems to have found the right balance of youth and experience. The Bangalore Football Stadium is turning into a fortress with another attendance of more than 6000 on a weekday and at a relatively new I-League venue.
It has been a dream start for the JSW-owned club so far, but tougher tests lie ahead, starting with their first away game of the campaign against East Bengal in round seven.
With Pune FC not in action, Salgaocar was the only other team who could have gone top by matching Bengaluru FC’s result. But the Goan club were surprisingly beaten by Mohun Bagan, a result which also ended their unbeaten start.
However, another Goan outfit Sporting Clube picked up their third straight win with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Rangdajied United, who with every passing round look favourites for relegation. Shillong Lajong though returned to winning ways for the first time since round one as they beat Mumbai FC by the odd goal in a five-goal thriller.
The round concluded with a goalless draw between Mohammedan Sporting and United SC in the ‘other’ Kolkata derby. Manish Maithani came on for Mohammedan Sporting in the second half to become the third IMG-Reliance contracted player to feature in the Airtel I-League with Shouvik Ghosh and Pritam Kotal already appearing for Mohun Bagan in their win against Salgaocar. More such IMG-R loanees will be seen in action in the coming rounds.
Bengaluru FC 3-1 Dempo; Mohun Bagan 2-1 Salgaocar; Mumbai FC 2-3 Shillong Lajong; Sporting Clube 3-0 Rangdajied United; Mohammedan Sporting 0-0 United SC
Game of the round
Mumbai FC 2-3 Shillong Lajong
Many people questioned the decision to have this fixture as one of the two televised games of this matchday, but in the end anyone who watched got entertained as the sides produced an open game with five goals and plenty of other chances.
In the previous five rounds, there was hardly any high-scoring goal fest so this match turned out to be a pleasant surprise for the Indian football fans. Both teams came into this game desperate for a win as Lajong were on a four-match winless streak while Mumbai FC had only won once in their last nine I-League encounters.
Hence both coaches set out their teams to attack from the very first whistle and Lajong raced into an early lead through Japanese Taisuke Matsugane. It was only their second goal since round one. The Shillong club had failed to keep a clean sheet in their previous three matches, so it wasn’t a surprise to see Afghanistan international Sandjar Ahmadi equalise just ten minutes after Matsugane’s opener.
Mumbai’s goal though didn’t deflate Lajong’s spirits as they continued to attack in the first half with only their final pass letting them down. The North-East club needed a bit more quality in the final third and it was provided in the second half by Trinidad & Tobago World Cupper Cornell Glen, who bagged a brace to take his tally to five for the season and could have easily scored a hattrick.
At 3-1, Mumbai FC had a mountain to climb and the sending off of Afghanistan skipper Zohib Islam Amiri added to their woes. But Khalid Jamil’s side ensured a nervy finish for Lajong with Ritesh Perambra pulling one back in stoppage time. The Shillong outfit held on for their second straight away win while Mumbai suffered back-to-back defeats at their adapted home venue in Pune.
Result of the round
Mohun Bagan 2-1 Salgaocar
Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa being up against his former club Salgaocar was an interesting subplot of this fixture. But the points were far more important to improve the Kolkata club’s position in the table as they had failed to win their first four matches with the pressure mounting on Bencherifa.
Skipper and talisman Odafa Okolie was supposed to play some part in this game but 24 hours before the match, the Nigerian suffered another setback in his recovery from injury and thus once again the Mariners were without their inspirational striker. To make matters worse, India goalkeeper Sandy Nandy was also ruled out.
Salgaocar came into this clash as the league leaders and looked like continuing their good start to the season as they were the better side in the first half. But the Goan club were wasteful with the league’s top scorer Darryl Duffy squandering the best opportunity of the first period.
Derrick Pereira’s side never got going in the second half and went behind when a mistake from Nicolau Colaco allowed Mohun Bagan’s CS Sabeeth to get in behind and score past Karanjit Singh. Japanese Katsumi Yusa doubled the home team’s advantage with a brilliant strike but the green-and-maroon brigade only got the points after a scare as Duffy converted a late penalty to make it 2-1.
The result and some aspects of the performance against Salgaocar could finally kick-start Mohun Bagan’s I-League campaign. Bencherifa is an expert of getting the best out of modest squads and this result will help in enhancing the self-belief of his players. For Salgaocar it was a massive step backwards and an indication that they might be overdependent on former Swansea striker Duffy for the goals.
Mohun Bagan still desperately need Odafa back in action while Salgaocar must choose their Asian foreigner wisely and hope that someone like Frenchman Claude Gnakpa can share the goal-scoring responsibility with Duffy.
Foreigner – Cornell Glen (Shillong Lajong)
Both Glen and Sean Rooney bagged braces in this round but the Trinidad & Tobago international gets the nod in this category as he almost single-handedly inspired Lajong to another away win. The Lajong team overall lacks quality and experience but on their day they can beat anyone because of the presence of the classy Glen.
Indian – CS Sabeeth (Mohun Bagan)
Indian strikers have struggled in the Airtel I-League so far and will continue to do so because of the four-foreigner rule. But Sabeeth has still caught the eye and netted his second goal of the campaign in this round. You can’t ever question his work rate but the former Arrows player can be wasteful in front of goal. However Sabeeth showed no such weaknesses in the Salgaocar game as he scored with a delightful chip over one of the best goalkeepers in the country.
A game involving Kolkata clubs once again dominates this column as both coaches were infuriated with the refereeing in the goalless draw between Mohammedan Sporting and United SC. In fact, the entire Mohammedan Sporting camp feel robbed as they are confident that the match officials wrongly adjudged Josimar to be offside and disallowed his goal. In truth the goal didn’t stand as Josimar was penalised for a foul on United SC defender Bello Rassaq with the flag going up much before the Brazilian had found the back of the net. The only argument Mohammedan Sporting can have is that was a soft freekick.
United SC coach Eelco Schattorie was understandably upset by the referee’s decision to sent off Rassaq after a second yellow. There was no doubts about the second booking but huge question marks remain about the first. In fact, the only criticism against referee Ratheesh Kumar can be that he was too intent on giving out yellow cards with five other players besides Rassaq getting into his book.
There were only four other games in this round and there were sending offs in two of them with Denson Devadas sent off for Mohun Bagan while Mumbai were reduced to ten after Amiri’s scuffle with Lajong’s Minchol Son.
The referees have perhaps been a little strict but to be frank, the players have been let down by their own indiscipline.