All eyes were on the summit clash between Mumbai City FC and Hyderabad FC ahead of the match week as the ISL enters its business end. The high-profile clash ended in a stalemate, allowing other clubs to lessen the gap between the sides at the top. 10-men East Bengal FC defeated well poised Kerala Blasters, making them wait further in their quest of playoff qualification. NorthEast United slumped to yet another defeat, this time against Jamshedpur while Odisha played out two eventful draws against Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa. Roy Krishna and Javi Hernandez returned to Kolkata to haunt their former side in a 2-1 victory over ATK Mohun Bagan.
Odisha’s playoff hopes take hits
Two draws over five days means that Odisha FC have dropped as many as 4 points as the race for the top 6 quickens. The Juggernauts have never tasted playoffs relish, going closest in the 2018-19 season when they finished sixth. Ending this season in the same spot, will however, mean that they have indeed qualified for the knockouts after the league changed its playoff rules, incorporating the top six sides, to improve competition at the top.
In the game against Chennaiyin FC, the Bhubaneshwar-based outift saw their goals being quickly cancelled out after they were scored. It took Anirudh Thapa to neutralize the scoreline less than a minute after Diego Mauricio had given the lead in the 24th minute. In the second half, Nasser El Khayati marked his much-anticipated return from injury with a goal, levelling the scores after Isak had given the Kalinga Warriors the lead for the second time in the game. The match ended in a 2-2 stalemate, much to Chennai’s dismay, who were the better side at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The Marina Machans remain rooted at 8th, winless in their last eight fixtures.
Against FC Goa at their home in Kalinga, the visitors took an early lead after the Odisha defense gave the ball away. Alvaro Vasquez slid a through ball in for Noah Sadaoui who poised himself before slotting the ball into the bottom corner. Diego Mauricio converted a freekick with blistering venom in the 43rd minute, bringing his season’s tally to 10 goals for the campaign. In the 66th minute, Sahil Panwar dragged Iker Guarrotxena to the ground after Goa found themselves in a fortuitous situation on the break. The referee gave him marching orders. Odisha managed to keep things tight in the back in the last quarter of the game, preventing the Gaurs’ incessant onslaughts.
Hyderabad hold off the Islanders in the summit clash
Mumbai failed to make it 12 wins in a row after second placed Hyderabad FC halted them at the Mumbai Football Arena. In the 23rd minute, the dynamic Indian duo – Bipin Singh and Lallinzuala Chhangte combined to win a penalty. Bipin’s header from Chhangte’s cross was blocked by the flailing arms of Nikhil Poojary. Jorge Pereira Diaz blasted home from the spot to give the Islanders the lead. In the 64th minute, Hitesh equalized for the Nizams after Mohammed Yasir fed him with a delectable through ball down the right.
East Bengal and Bengaluru record upsets
Kerala Blasters fell to their third defeat in four games after Stephen Constantine’s side picked up just their fifth win of the season. It was a typical Constantine performance from the Red and Gold brigade whose grit and determination shined through the 90 minutes. In a good spell for the Torch Bearers, the ever-dependable Naorem Mahesh found himself in the opposition box in the 77th minute. His cross ricocheted off a number of players before falling in the path of the predatory Cleiton Silva who made no mistake in converting from close range. The 1-0 victory sees both Kerala and East Bengal remain rooted in their spots of 3rd and 9th in the table, respectively.
Bengaluru FC also came to Kolkata and delivered a show of statement in a late dramatic affair against ATK Mohun Bagan. After both sides squandered a host of opportunities, Javi Hernandez met a Naorem Roshan cross with a sweet volley off his left foot, scoring the opener. In the 91st minute, Roy Krishna too found the net against his former side after a rookie mistake from Vishal Kaith, the Mariners’ custodian. A deflected strike in the 93rd minute from Dimitri Petratos was not enough to save ATKMB’s blemishes as they still await their qualification to the top 6.
Another game, another defeat for the Highlanders
NorthEast United FC have perfected a horrible habit of picking up defeats and they just cannot stop. Their 15th loss of the season came at the hands of Jamshedpur FC, who have been playing some promising football of late, although results may not do justice to that. Goals from Ritwik Das and Daniel Chima Chukwu ensured the Red Miners’ victory as they remained just above their counterparts in the 10th spot in the ISL table.
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