The I-League 2023-24 season finally resumed this past weekend after the month-long mid-season break. However, the new year’s first round of fixtures were reduced to just three games, as unfit playing conditions forced the remaining fixtures to get postponed.
The first I-League clash of 2024 was scheduled to be between Rajasthan FC and Namdhari, until torrential rainfall in Ludhiana resulted in a water-logged pitch and subsequent postponement. Delhi FC being another tenant of the Namdhari Stadium this season meant their fixture against Gokulam Kerala was also pushed-back for the same reason. Meanwhile, the much-awaited Imphal derby – between TRAU and NEROCA – was rescheduled due to the ongoing crisis in Manipur (both clubs will take refuge in Kalyani and Shillong respectively until circumstances permit the return to Khuman Lampak Stadium). A new date for the shelved fixtures is yet to be announced by the I-League.
The three games played in Matchweek 13 resulted in thrilling title race developments and some mid-table shuffling. Here is an overview of all the results.
Inter Kashi weather Shillong Lajong onslaught, take all three points
After three postponements, Round 13 of the I-League finally commenced on Saturday, 3rd February, with Shillong Lajong’s battle against Inter Kashi. Both mid-table teams were similarly matched and warm from Kalinga Super Cup action, which made for an enticing fixture.
The first half was played at a frantic pace, with plenty of chances falling both ways. Shillong Lajong appeared to have a slight edge, but good goalkeeping from Arindam Bhattacharya, in conjunction with poor finishing, kept them from scoring. Ultimately, it was Inter Kashi who broke the deadlock, in the 23rd minute, with a remarkable swiveling finish from Cape Verde international Gianni dos Santos.
Shillong Lajong, backed by five thousand cold-braving supporters, pushed relentlessly for an equalizer but it never came. Figo Syndai rattled the post in the 73rd minute and Marcos Rudwere struck the crossbar in the 75th , yet somehow Arindam’s net remained empty. The Reds had 16 attempts, but only two were on target. Their dominion in possession did not reflect on the scoresheet either.
Inter Kashi’s victory sees them gain two positions as they move into sixth. They are now one point behind Shillong Lajong. The Reds will be praying for better luck and finishing in their trip to Gokulam Kerala next week.
Last-gasp winner sees Sreenidi Deccan edge past Churchill Brothers
Matchweek 13’s Sunday afternoon kick-off saw Sreenidi Deccan travel to the Tilak Maidan – in Mormugao, Goa – to face Churchill Brothers. The visitors were fresh off their Super Cup campaign and were looking to reduce the seven-point gap that separated them from the top of the league. On the other hand, the hosts were four points above the drop zone, hoping to start the new year strong and make their game in hand count.
After an even start, Sreenidi Deccan opened the scoring in the 11th minute. Rilwan Hassan found David Castañeda with an inch-perfect cross, which the latter finished for his 5th goal of the season. Having conceded, the Red Machines began searching for an equalizer. However, they did not manage more than a few half-chances ahead of the break.
The second half was a relatively dull affair, with both teams repeatedly crossing without conviction, until things got spiced up in the dying minutes. Churchill Brothers, who had been knocking on the door for much of the game, finally leveled the score in the 88th minute. Winning possession in midfield, Stendly Fernandes caught the visitors off-guard with a brilliant through ball which Abdou Karim Samb slotted successfully.
Looking to cling on for a draw, the hosts retreated into their shell and Sreenidi Deccan capitalized on their increased share of possession. In the fourth minute of injury time, Eli Sabiá applied a deft header to Lalromawia’s cross, putting the ball into the Churchill Brothers’ net and snatching all three points for his side. Sabiá was joined by all his teammates, including the bench, in a wild celebration.
The win takes Sreenidi Deccan within four of the top-spot. A point would have lifted Churchill Brothers into 9th place, above Rajasthan FC, but the loss means they remain in 10th.
Real Kashmir thrash Mohammedan Sporting, close gap to four in I-League table
Mohammedan Sporting welcomed Real Kashmir to the Naihati Bankimanjali Stadium for a pivotal top-of-the-table clash on Sunday, February 4th.
The hosts went into this I-League Matchweek with an unbeaten league record and a healthy seven-point lead at the top. Meanwhile, the second-placed visitors were looking to bounce back from only their second loss of the season – against Delhi FC on Christmas Eve – and cut the deficit.
The first half was a goalless display, with Mohammedan creating the better opportunities. However, the match shifted drastically in the 55th minute when Zodingliana Ralte helped Shahar Shaheen’s header past his goalkeeper and into his own goal. It was an unfortunate sequence of events for Mohammedan because Shaheen’s header was not threatening until Ralte’s instinctual deflection neatly pushed it past Padam Chhetri’s reach.
After bravely defending the hosts’ immediate attempts to equalize, Real Kashmir doubled their lead, in similar fashion, ten minutes later. This time it was Gnohere Krizo who bundled the ball in, with the help of a defender’s deflection, after getting on the end of a Carlos Lomba corner.
Mohammedan’s night got worse in the 79th minute when center-back Joseph Adjei was given a second-yellow for a violent retaliation after being fouled. Not only did Mohammedan’s uphill task become steeper, but they would also miss their staple defender for the next game.
Real Kashmir took advantage of their deprived opponents by adding a third in injury time. Mohammad Inam was brought down by Mirjalol Kasimov in the penalty area, and Krizo scored the resulting penalty for his brace.
A 3 – 0 thumping at home to fellow title contenders was a tough pill to swallow for Mohammedan, as illustrated by their fans who threw bottles onto the field and caused a brief stoppage of play. The Kolkata-based side still top the I-League table, but their lead has diminished to four points. Both Real Kashmir and Sreenidi Deccan are neck-and-neck behind Mohammedan with the former maintaining second position on goal-difference.
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