The ISL has a habit of being unpredictable. It also has a habit of making me look rather stupid at the moment. For example, I was adamant Bengaluru would beat Delhi yesterday, so much so that I had it as a ‘house bet’ and backed Bengaluru to win 1-5 in the prediction league, the score? 2-0 to Delhi. That was the penultimate game of what was another action-packed weekend in the ISL as we entered the second half of the season. The last game of the first half of it saw NorthEast United taken on ATK, again, another one I called incorrectly as I thought without Robbie Keane, ATK would fall short. Incorrect.
It was an encounter which saw ATK grow more and more into the game, as the game wore on. ATK had more of the ball throughout the game and they would have been bitterly disappointed if they didn’t come away with the three points. For all of the possession they had in the first half, they didn’t create a great deal as Zequinha firing over the bar was really all that went on in a half that was lacking any clear-cut chances.
A moment of magic
Luckily, the second half had a bit more about it as both teams decided a draw was no good for them and it was the home side who had the first opening as Danilo struck the ball from just inside the area, unfortunately for the Brazilian, Majumder was equal to it as he tipped it for a corner. We were straight down the other end shortly afterwards as ATK were now looking the more likely but a free header was squandered and then it was Paramaba in ATK’s goal, keeping it goalless as he kept out the rebound.
Danilo was wasteful once more at the other end as he spurned another chance, this time failing to test the keeper whatsoever. It was not too long after Danilo’s wayward effort that the game sparked into life as Robin’s shot was kept out by Rehenesh, but the back line could only manage to clear it too the edge of the area where the ball found itself to Zequinha, but considering he had three white shirts surrounding him, NorthEast didn’t look in too much danger. That was until Zequinha hit the ball on the bounce into the top corner, it was one of them, you could have had three keepers and it still would have gone in. A real moment of magic.
The home side had a couple of half chances to get back into the game but on the whole, there wasn’t a great deal for them to write about which is a shame really because I enjoyed speaking to Schattorie and if they’d won I was going to claim that I was the mastermind behind it all. Ah well, maybe some other time. It’s a result which has left ATK well placed going into the second half of the season as they are now only four points off the playoffs which is mental when you think about it because, in many respects, they have been poor so far.
FT: NorthEast United 0-1 ATK; Zequinha (73).
Saturday saw a top of the table clash in Chennai between Pune City and the hosts Chennaiyin FC and in my preview, for the game, I said there was definitely going to be goals and I wasn’t going to be told any different. It ended with the one goal, it wasn’t going well. The majority of the action came in the first half as a relatively even contest saw Pune have the lion’s share of the clear-cut chances. First up, Pune’s attack was thwarted by a good save by Karanjit and the defence then mopped up, but not too much later, Ashique had a golden opportunity to put Pune one to the good.
Late goal decides clash
Alfaro played a delicious ball over the head of the last defender which set him free, it was just him and the keeper, sink or swim, fight or fly. Turns out Ashique isn’t a strong swimmer because he hit the ball wide when he really should have hit the target at a very minimum and you only have to wonder, if it was Ashique that played in Alfaro, would it have been a different story altogether? Most likely. It was Diego’s turn this time around as he crashed an effort off the underside off the crossbar, but all the luck seemed to be on the side of Chennaiyin as the ball bounced away and out of danger. Surely Chennaiyin’s run had to run out?
You don’t really need luck when Adil Khan is playing for the other team as he is a bit of a loose cannon when there was absolutely no need to, he pushed Gregory Nelson down in the box and Chennaiyin were awarded a penalty. However, was this where things changed? Mihelic stepped up and took one of those penalties that looks great if the keeper goes the wrong way, but if he goes the right way like Kaith did, it looks awful. As it goes that was about it in terms of good chances for the first half.
The second half was all about the home side as they had more of the ball, more shots, more corners, completed more passes, so on and so forth, so if they hadn’t come away with all three points it would have been somewhat of a travesty. Augusto, who came on for Mihelic, showed his worth to the onlooking John Gregory as he played in Nelson for the winner; a smart ball out wide still left a lot for Gregory to do, but a deft touch inside and a finish to match saw Chennaiyin go one nil up with only seven minutes left. Pune couldn’t find a way back from there and Chennaiyin went top of the table.
FT: Chennaiyin FC; Nelson (83) 1-0 Pune City.
Bengaluru had the chance to go back to the top of the table when they faced bottom side Delhi Dynamos and as I said earlier, it was my banker for the weekend. So when the final whistle went and Delhi were 2-0 winners, that made three losses on the bounce for me as I was trying to figure out the best way to sell a kidney without anyone noticing. All jokes aside, it was thoroughly deserved for Delhi who played out of their skin and not like a team that hadn’t won at home since November 2016. Delhi started well, but they were mainly shooting from distance which wasn’t troubling Sandhu too much in the away goal.
BengaBus comes to a grinding halt
A big chance, the first of the game came to Bengaluru and I think if you gave Braulio the chance 99 more times, he would probably score them all, such are the fine margins we live and die by. He was played in by Delgado but his touch really let him down and he missed. Crucial. After that, it was all about Lallianzuala Chhangte as he did pretty much everything apart from score as he forced Sandhu into two good saves and dragged one wide as Delhi ended the first half well and truly on the front foot.
Roca seemingly gave Bengaluru a grilling at half-time as all the chances were coming for the boys in blue. First up it was a free-kick for Chhetri which was saved well by Sharma and then that man Braulio had another golden opportunity but his attempt flashed just past the post. After that, it was Lumu’s chance which went begging, this time for the home side, as Chhangte put him in a great position, unfortunately, it was another chance squandered. Chhangte wouldn’t make that mistake himself, though. He timed his run to perfection as Pritam Kotal played him in and he did exactly the right thing as he just nicked it past Sandhu to put Delhi one nil up, completely against the odds.
Minutes after they had taken the lead, they were very nearly the masters of their own downfall as per usual. Some horrendous marking from a set piece left the wonderfully named John Johnson with all the time in the world to get up and head the ball. If he had put it a couple of yards to the left or right, it would have gone in, but luckily for Delhi, it went right into the thankful arms of Sharma. Lucky. In the 97th minute, Delhi doubled their lead from the penalty spot after a stupid tackle from Bose when the ball was going to the keeper, gave Guyon Fernandez the chance to take his tally to two in three, which isn’t bad for a player who is a sub. Bose was given his marching orders because he was last man and Guyon did just that to put Delhi level on points with NorthEast United and it also marked their first clean sheet of the season. On the charge!
FT: Delhi Dynamos; Chhangte (72), Guyon Fernandez (90+8, pen) 2-0 Bengaluru FC
The final game of the weekend was in Mumbai where Mumbai City played Kerala Blasters in what was, as usual, a tough game to call in the ISL as going into the game Mumbai had only lost once at home and David James’ Kerala had four points from two games as they looked completely transformed under the ex-England keeper. I actually called this one right in the prediction league, believe it or not, but sod’s law meant it wasn’t one of the betting games. Wonderful.
A tale of two offsides
Mumbai had the best chance early on when Balwant put a diving header just past the post in what an early spell of dominance for the home side. Officiating is something which has been under constant spotlight this season in the ISL and the referee and linesmen didn’t cover themselves in glory as Hume made it four goals in two games with a controversial strike. A Kerala player was brought down in the final third and they were rightly awarded a free-kick, that was ok. The free-kick was taken at least five yards in front of where it should have been, that wasn’t ok. The ball was moving, that wasn’t ok. Hume was possibly offside, that’s either ok or not, I’m not sure because even after watching it over ten times, I still can’t quite decide. Take nothing away from Hume, it was a brilliant first-time finish, it’s just a shame it’s another goal surrounded in gloom.
After the break, Mumbai were aggrieved once more with the officials as Emana had the ball in the back of the net, but it was ruled out for offside. In defence of the linesman, he got this one spot on as Emana was a few yards offside and that was obvious on first viewing. It was Hume again who was causing trouble down the other end after his dipping free-kick was met with a firm left hand of Amrinder to keep the score at 1-0.
Following on from that effort from Hume, Mumbai did literally everything but score as both of the Santos’, Balwant and Emana all had chances but they were prevented by a combination of poor finishing, the woodwork and some good goalkeeping. On another day Mumbai would have comfortably won this, but Kerala’s centre-half partnership of Brown and Jhingan stood strong once more to put Kerala within two points of the playoffs.
FT: Mumbai City 0-1 Kerala Blasters; Hume (23).
Some big, big results this weekend as it could be argued that anyone from ATK upwards has got a chance, maybe even Delhi if they put a run together. Hell, why not NorthEast as well? There are only nine points from bottom to fourth and with everyone facing each other, the four teams in the playoffs come the end of the season is as difficult to call as ever. Let’s hope this week matches the last for excitement.