The 2021-22 ISL season has been a goal-fest and the sides that took the field over the festive period didn’t disappoint when it came to scoring. With 5 matches played out between Christmas and the start of the new year and 22 goals scored, Indian football fans were in for a treat. We look into each game played out over match week 9 and analyze before the madness unravels itself once again on the 2nd of January 2022.
Stewart lights up Boxing Day
Before the season began most football pundits thought Nerijus Valskis would be the ace up Owen Coyle’s sleeve. The Lithuanian looked like a shadow of his former self for Jamshedpur this season and a new star has emerged for the Red Miners. Greg Stewart, Coyle’s import this season from Rangers in the Scottish Premier League, has undoubtedly been the foreign signing of the season.
Jamshedpur and Blasters went head to head against each other on Boxing Day. Boris Singh was brought down on the left wing and the Miners were awarded a free kick. Stewart stood over the ball and with just a single man in the wall, Kerala expected Stewart to sweep the ball into the box but the Scotsman had other plans and went for goal from an ostentatious range and managed to beat Prabshukhan Singh Gill on his near post. That goal will be etched in the memories of ISL fans forever.
Sahal Abdul Samad continued his rich vein of form after a disappointing campaign last season and has been Vukomanovic’s star this year. Leaving the ghosts of last season behind, Sahal has been prolific in front of goal this season as his equalizer against Jamshedpur was his third successive goal in as many matches. With the match ending in a stalemate both Kerala and Jamshedpur stayed on 13 points from 8 games, with Jamshedpur staying fourth pipping the Blasters based on more goals scored.
Deshorn Brown NorthEast’s new sweetheart
Deshorn moved to Bengaluru last season from the second division in the US and struggled to fit into the ISL. It looked like Brown’s ISL career was going to be short and unmemorable until he swapped shirts and moved to the Highlands from the Garden City. Brown’s life in ISL got a shot in the arm after he signed for NorthEast United, scoring 5 goals in 10 games in the latter half of last season that saw Khalid Jamil’s men make it to the play-offs.
It’s never easy to play against Mumbai City FC but the defending champions were without Mourtada Fall and Buckingham put his faith in an all-Indian back four against the Highlanders. Khalid, as expected, sent out a consolidated defensive unit with his front three in Suhair, Brown, and Coureur tasked with hitting the Islanders on the counter. Brown had put NorthEast ahead in the 29th minute but his goal was canceled out by Igor Angulo and Bipin Singh scored 5 mins before half-time to go into the break with a 2-1 lead.
Mumbai started the second half brightly and 7 minutes in the second half, Angulo doubled his goal tally as he scored his second and Mumbai’s third. At 3-1, against Mumbai City, it looked all but over for NorthEast but Brown had other plans. Three minutes after Angulo had doubled Mumbai’s lead, Brown scored his second and reduced the margin before finding the equalizing goal in the 80th minute and along with it completing his first hat-trick in the Indian Super League.
With the final score at 3-3, it didn’t help the Highlanders and their endeavor in climbing the league table but they took valuable points off the defending champions and opened up a window of opportunity for the chasing pack.
Manolo’s men run riot
Manolo Marquez and Hyderabad FC look like a match made in heaven. After taking over the Nizam’s last season, Manolo had assembled a squad brimming with youthful exuberance and experienced personnel. After a disappointing debut season, nobody gave Hyderabad a chance in 2020-21 but Marquez and Hyderabad surprised everyone with their brilliant footballing display and narrowly missed out on the play-offs.
Marquez lost Liston Colaco to ATK Mohun Bagan and let go of all his foreign recruits retaining only Chianese and Joao Victor and signed Ogbeche, Edu Garcia, and Juanan who had previous experience of playing in the ISL. Hyderabad have looked incredibly brilliant every time they have taken to the pitch this season, keeping the ball and passing it with supreme efficiency. Having dropped points against Goa and SC East Bengal in the previous games it was of utmost importance that Manolo’s men take home all three points against Kiko Ramirez’s Odisha.
Hyderabad turned up the ante against Odisha and went on a scoring riot. An own goal from Odisha FC’s Sailung had given Hyderabad the lead but Juanan returned the favor and the score was tied at 1-1 before Ogbeche put the Nizams ahead before half-time. In the second half, Hyderabad came in with all guns blazing sweeping the field with Odisha as they scored 4 more and in total half a dozen goals past a hapless Kamaljit Singh. With this emphatic win, Hyderabad stayed second in the league with just 1 point off Mumbai City.
Liston Colaco – A new star in Kolkata
Liston Colaco has been in the making for a long time and ever since he has put on the hallowed green and maroon, the boy from Goa has become a star. Coming up the ranks in his youth career from Salgaocar to the FC Goa reserves, Liston signed for Hyderabad because of lack of opportunities with Goa. After an impressive ISL 7 with the Nizams, ATK Mohun Bagan didn’t wait long before wrapping up the signing of the youngster.
After his move to ATK Mohun Bagan, both Habas and now Juan Fernando have put their immense faith in Liston Colaco. The youngster gave a glimpse of his brilliance against the Blasters in the opening encounter and hasn’t looked back since. Scoring 5 goals and assisting one, Liston has been emphatic in his debut season with the Kolkata giants.
After the departure of Habas, The Mariners have returned to winning ways against NorthEast but all eyes were on the mouth-watering clash against FC Goa, Fernando’s former employers. Liston was at his brilliant self against the side he started his footballing career with and opened the scoring before Roy Krishna found his missing scoring boots to give Mariners a 2 goal lead in the second half.
Defensively ATK Mohun Bagan looked not so secure once again and with their frailties in defending set pieces, they gave a goal back to Goa in the 81st minute. It was a nervy end to the game for the Mariners but they held on to get their second win on the trot and keep Fernando’s perfect start to life on the bench intact.
Bengaluru FC return to winning ways
Bengaluru FC isn’t accustomed to life in the lower half of the league. Having finished seventh last season in what has been their worst performance in the recent past, Bengaluru bought in Pezzaiuoli to lead the team this season. After an AFC cup campaign that ended for them in the group stage, Bengaluru made the perfect start to life in ISL 2021-22 wining their opening encounter against NorthEast.
Since then, however, things haven’t gone their way. In their next 7 games, Bengaluru lost to Odisha, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Goa. They managed to take points from ATK Mohun Bagan, Jamshedpur, and against the Kerala Blasters in the Southern Derby picking up only 3 points from 21 available. Life was getting uneasy for Pezzaiuoli in the Blues bench and they needed a win to turn their fortunes.
It looked like their misery will continue when Chennaiyin’s Milan Murzaev put the Marina Machans ahead in the 4th minute. But Cleiton soon restored parity from the penalty spot before Alan Costa put Bengaluru ahead just before halftime. Bengaluru made an equally disastrous start to the second half, allowing Rahim Ali to score Chennaiyin’s equalizer just 4 minutes in the second half.
Pezzaiuoli needed things to go his ways and his only course of action to change fortunes in the middle was through substitutes and the German hit the jackpot. Udanta Singh came off the bench to put Bengaluru ahead in the 70th minute and Pratik Chaudhari too found himself on the scoresheet coming off the bench. Bengaluru managed their first win since the opening day fixture as they went on to win 4-2 and Pezzaiuoli will hope his change of fortune lasts longer than one game.
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